Communication gurus usually advise folks to honestly talk out problems and share intimacies as the most useful means to solve discord and enhance relationships. But here's the catch to this counsel: It only works with those who are determined to develop the capacity for this kind of communication, if they do not already have it.
Communication gurus also counsel that when having a difficult conversation with a friend or loved one, it is wise, rather than describe another's hurtful behavior (which can make one defensive), to begin sensitive conversations with "I feel," followed by "sad, hurt, unsettled, discouraged," or whatever the feeling is. The reasoning behind this is logical: One's feelings are one's feelings, and who can question them? But life and work have taught me that this is not always the best counsel either. For this approach also only works if one has the capacity for an in-depth conversation, or is determined to develop it.
Sometimes a very direct, "I have had it with your behavior!" is the necessary choice. And sometimes one is best to just walk away silently, allowing the silence to speak for itself. These choices may lead to one looking into his or her rude and insulting behavior. Or they may not. But the important thing is that they bring self respect to those who have endured consistent insensitivities and insults.
Following are examples from my practice where honest sharing of feelings in ongoing contact failed, and a different quality of honesty is called for. The examples involve attempts to address problems with Personality Types I call "The Devourer" and "The Baby/Bully." I hope you will comment on this blog, with feedback, and examples from your life.
The Devourer: A social climbing acquaintance of my client, Delores, was invited to an intimate 10th anniversary celebration because her husband was a trusted colleague in the host's law firm and had always been very kind to the hosting couple. Soon after arriving, the invited wife of this union did her best to diminish the joy of the occasion. She made disparaging comments about the couple's small apartment and the poor quality of the champagne served. She then collected contact information from several of the guests she considered desirable. The next day she called, in saccharine sweetness, to "thank" the hosts. She asked Delores innumerable questions about several guests and requested a further email address. In the past, in order to salvage the joint relationship, Delores tried innumerable times to address her frustrations, to no avail. When the post-party telephone conversation (which Delores tried to end several times) was over (Delores finally interrupted even more questions with "I have to go right now" and hung up the phone), she told her husband she "felt eaten alive." It was at long last-realized by both that "letting go" of this "couple friendship" was essential.
The Baby/Bully: My client, Daniel, described a friend of his wife, Sam, a man both of them had grown up with. He explained that Sam consistently made him uncomfortable with his sarcastic comments and sulking behavior when things did not go precisely his way. To quote Daniel's description of his wife Claire's childhood friend: "Sam's wife has continued the same catering to his every whim that his parents, who acted more like his servants, led him to expect." Daniel further explained that Claire wanted to hold on to the relationship with a man who "never grew up" because of their shared childhood roots, which Daniel had accepted until their son's recent wedding. The bride's parents, although they were of limited means, had insisted on paying for the event themselves as an expression of their love for their daughter. In Daniel's words, "We offered to help with costs, but our offer was tactfully denied. Everything was wonderful, as well as understandably limited, as the budget was limited." He continued: "After the ceremony, Sam took Claire to a quiet corner and judged both the bride's and her mother's dresses sarcastically, calling them 'tacky.'" Claire interrupted him, stating clearly that she felt awful hearing this from an old friend, especially on such a milestone occasion. But as she spoke, Daniel, who had walked toward them, saw Sam laugh, belittling Claire's feelings with a toss of his shoulder. Daniel then approached Sam, telling him, "Enough is enough," to which Sam replied in fury, "No one, but no one, tells me what I can say. I speak the truth." "Well," responded Daniel, "Someone should have told you a long time ago, and I am telling you now." "No," corrected his wife, "We are finally telling you now. Just shove it." Then, arm in arm, Daniel and Claire, walked away to continue celebrating, leaving Sam alone to continue his rant.
As you know, I hope you will respond to the above with your thoughts and experiences. And as important, I wish you a a new year of happiness, good health, fun, fulfillment, and frolic.
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