How, what and when we speak makes a lasting impression. Words cannot be taken back.
How many times have you heard: “Oh … I didn’t really mean it.” Or, ”I’m sorry I said that. I take it back.” Or, “I was just angry and wanted to get back at you, that isn’t how I really feel.” How many times have you said one of those?
Doesn’t work, does it? Once those words leave your mouth and fall into someone’s ears they are engraved in history, on their heart and in their minds. Sometimes, we hear about that mean thing that was said in anger, for years. It becomes a “go to” point in every argument or an automatic memory whenever feelings are hurt. Words cannot be taken back. They can’t be erased and they cannot be eliminated. Sorry.
In relationships, stuff happens. We get on each other’s nerves. We forget things and wind up in the “dog house”. We feel safe enough to let off some steam from other areas of our lives in the face of our partner. We forget that the ones we love most are listening and valuing what comes out of our mouths. That’s a good thing, right? They value what we say? Not always …
Have you ever heard of a Parapraxis? Well, that’s the psychological term for a “Freudian Slip”. Freud believed that when we erroneously said a word, a name, a fragment that seemingly didn’t fit in context, that it wasn’t just a verbal fumble and that it really meant something. It was after all on the mind and up front ready to be accessed so it could slip out. That’s what sticks in our minds when our lover mistakenly calls us by another’s name – worst of all the ex’s!! It’s obvious that they were thinking of the ex, right? Maybe even having some feelings about them …
So the point here is this: We need to be careful about what we say. What we say makes an impact on those hearing it, and it cannot be taken back. Those that care the most about you are usually the most sensitive to what you say, so they are the ones that are the most impacted when you say something careless.
Even the little comments made in jest or in passing like, “oh don’t be such a whimp!” or ” You dummie! Don’t you know….?” and the ever popular, “How can you be such a jerk!?” can hurt or damage someone. Perhaps you really don’t mean to be calling your loved ones names or demeaning their self esteem and undermining their confidence in themselves – and trust in you, but … when you think about it for a moment … how safe do you feel about revealing your vulnerability to someone that has ever said something like that to you? Sometimes, you might even laugh with them when they “poke fun” at you in this way, but I’ll bet you also think twice about being open, vulnerable and completely yourself with someone that talks to you that way.
Words can bring us to tears of joy and touch our hearts and they can burn holes in our self esteem and ruin the bonds in our relationships. When we are distracted, emotional, hurt, in a hurry, etc., we tend to just blabber and let things fall our of our mouths without thinking. We’re human. I doubt that anyone can be perfect in this way, never saying something thoughtless, hurtful or inconsiderate. And … when it comes to our most precious relationships, we really need to try to be aware of what we say. Not doing so delivers a message of disrespect. Taking the time to be care-full shows respect and caring for the person you’re talking to. Relationships with more caring and respect between partners are happier, more successful and last longer. That doesn’t mean you can’t express your anger, hurt, disappointment or other real emotions, it just means that if you care about someone, you take care with how you say things.
So when you’re talking, or arguing with your spouse, or kids, or anyone, really … try to take a break when it gets really fierce. Don’t just let things fall out of your mouth without being aware of the mark they leave on the person it was said to or about. It’s ok to stop in the middle of an argument and say: “Look. I don’t want to start saying things I don’t really mean, and I’m pretty worked up right now, so let’s take a break and finish this later.” It’s also ok when you start hearing things that are mean or hurtful to say: “Wow. This is getting mean and hurtful. I don’t want to hear this kind of stuff because I’m sure you really don’t mean it, so I’m going to take a break until you cool down.” The amazing thing is that if the argument is worthy, it will continue later on a better note with less danger of hurting something precious – like your whole relationship. If you can’t remember later, what you were arguing about … congratulations! You’re already over it and don’t need to remember and rehash it. And best of all … no apologies, groveling and making up is necessary. No damage was done and no recovery time is needed!
It’s challenging to be aware at that level sometimes so, here are a couple of management skills you can use to help keep things under control, in line with your real feelings and maintain an atmosphere of safety, love, respect and caring.
1. Tune in to your body when you start into a conversation with your partner. Notice at the start how tense or relaxed your shoulders, neck, jaw and hands are. Check in with them often during the conversation to see if they get more tense. If they do, take a clue and take a break.
2. Start every important conversation with a deep breath that goes clear down into your lower abs. Deep breathing signals the brain to relax and allows for focus and awareness. Shallow breathing signals the brain to fight or flee.
3. For sensitive, angry or loaded discussions, use only “I” statements. No one likes to be pointed at or accused, so stick to what’s real for you. Talk about yourself – not the other person. ("I want you to stop being a jerk!" is not what I mean here.)
4. Learn to name your feelings instead of using grandiose, exaggerated, global descriptions meant to intimidate or demean your partner. ”I feel” happy, sad, mad, glad, sorry, hurt, lonely, intimidated, vulnerable, useless, worthless, unimportant, relaxed, peaceful, contrite, embarrassed, ashamed, etc. When you tell someone how you feel about the subject matter, it’s much easier to hear than “you make me feel like crap” or so … when it’s easier to hear, it’s less likely to get a retaliatory or defensive response.
5. Avoid using “always” and ”never”. There is almost nothing that is always or never and that is more true for couples. No-one always anything or never something. Be real about that.
6. Listen. We all want and need to be heard, so we all need to listen. Try to control your mind. When listening to something difficult to hear try to keep your mind open. Stop the chatter in your head about what you want to say so you don’t wind up interrupting with one of those nasty comments you really don’t mean.
These skills seem simple enough and they are. But they do take some mindful attention and diligent consciousness to catch, set in place and habituate. In some cases the way we talk is so habitual it seems impossible to change it or even notice what change to make. If this sounds familiar, don't despair. Communication training is a profession because it's not a common skill, so ask for help. you'll get it.
Just like “I love you more than anything … will you marry me?” makes a relationship right there – out of words – remember, Relationships Live on the Tip of Your Tongue. And … you are in control of that!
Stanlee Panelle, M.A. is a former Psychotherapist that practices internationally as a Personal Life Coach successfully teaching people how to overcome depression, for the past 10 years. Coach Stanlee also specializes in guiding Mid-Life Women through the transition into the best years of their life. For more information on how to overcome depression or for a free consultation contact Coach Stanlee at www.stanleepanellecoaching.com