We’ve had a tough day. On the way home from work, stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change, another car hits us from the rear – not hard, there’s no damage, but we’re shaken up and feel like it’s just “one more thing” compounding an already-difficult day.
We describe the incident to our partner, who responds, “You really should take the other route; people drive too fast on that road.” Or maybe he or she says, “Remember, I told you, if you’d just leave work 15 minutes earlier, you’d avoid traffic.” That makes us furious.
Because instead of empathy, our partner gave us advice. We’re feeling vulnerable. What we really want is a hug, some words of consolation. We tell the story in the hopes of getting a “verbal hug” if not an actual one. Instead, our partner’s response feels cold, controlling, harsh and judgmental.
This situation can arise in conversation with our partner, family, friends, co-workers or even strangers. We are in need of support, help, sympathy or understanding, but instead are offered “sage” advice and end up feeling angry at the other person and angry at ourselves for being vulnerable.
Our anger is likely to make the situation worse, to push our partner away instead of getting us the response we really want. Our partner may become angry as well. When we’re angry, communication shuts down. We become defensive. We may say things that are hurtful or that we don’t really mean.
So what’s the solution?
Better communication skills. We can learn relationship skills that help us empathize and help us ask for what we need. As we express ourselves in this new way, anger no longer seems like a useful or necessary response. These are skills that can benefit every relationship, whether we’ve just met or we’ve been together for years, whether we’re on the verge of divorce or deeply committed and loving.
For a free phone consult, call Dr. Fibus at 818.395.2831.