Sweeten it up!


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Got a sour relationship? Pour on some sugar!

No matter how bad things have gotten in your stressed-out relationship, there is some good news:  You are the one in charge of your own feelings, your own attitude and your own actions.

Even though it might seem hard to believe when things aren’t going great, the other person can’t “make” you sad, hurt, angry or upset. Those are all your internal reactions to a combination of what they say and do, and what you decide it all means.

If you feel there’s enough good left in this “sour” relationship, try to sweeten it up before you ruin it completely with all the anger beneath the surface.

I promised yesterday that I’d give you some tips on how to do that, and here they are:

  • Call a truce. Whatever is going on, whatever you two have been doing to each other — whether it’s yelling, snide comments, the cold shoulder, withdrawing support or a whole array of other mean tricks we can do to someone when we feel injured — Cut It Out. NOW. It’s up to you whether you announce the truce or simply start acting on it.
  • Pause before you say anything, and rethink the words you were about to use. Make sure they are not sarcastic or archly superior — you know, those little putdowns that are so scathing and feel so satisfying in the immediate moment, but do a whole lot of damage to the other person, and to you as well (ah, regrets!). Calm yourself. Breathe slowly. Now say what’s on your mind, in a calm and reasonable tone.
  • Remember the “trick” of using “I” statements — what that does is help you get out of the habit of launching attacks that begin “You always” or “You never” or “You are so…”  Instead, stick to your own feelings. “I feel upset when I try to tell you about this and you walk out of the room.” (Instead of, “You always walk out when I start talking! You’re so rude!”) With practice, it won’t feel so stilted and also it will help you focus on what you really are upset about. Be specific rather than making sweeping statements.
  • Whatever is going on, whether you’ve been fighting over money or work or the kids or whatever …. the subject itself really doesn’t matter, although of course it seems like that’s the most important thing — and it might be hard to recognize that it’s a smokescreen. You have a power or control struggle going on between you and that’s the heart of this, isn’t it?
  • Don’t stand with your arms crossed, glaring at him/her from across the room.  Approach. Reach out and touch. Establish a connection. If things have reached a breaking point, this will probably feel strange and awkward, but the human touch is incredibly powerful — think of the difference between a caress and a slap, both done with a hand.  If you can’t quite manage a caress because your anger is so intensely directed at this other person, then at least touch their arm gently. Say something from the heart, such as “I don’t want to keep fighting and being at odds. Could we talk ? Is this a good time?”
  • Remember that kindness is an incredible gift you can give to another person. So pour it on, and be kind to yourself at the same time. Respect each other. If the accusations start flying or the mood turns ugly, hold up your hands (about chest high, not over your head!) in a modified “surrender” type of body language and say — keeping your voice calm — “Let’s talk about this some other time when we’ve both calmed down. I don’t want to fight.” And then remove yourself to give both of you time to cool off.
  • Try again later, and set the ground rules that each person gets to talk for 3 minutes or 5 minutes (or whatever you decide mutually) and the other person just listens without comment. When you finish your time, the other person is to simply say “Thank you. I hear you.”  This exercise might sound stilted and phony, but you probably haven’t listened to each other in a long time and honest listening where you really pay attention to what the other is feeling and yearning for will open up a whole new dialogue that you’ve been missing sorely.

your happiness guru,

Evelyn

Comments (6)

Melanie Kissell

June 11, 2010

Every one of your tips are exemplary, Evelyn! I just like to put my two cents worth in sometimes and tell people there really is a wrong way and a right way to "fight", if you will.

I"m a big believer that body language signs actually speak louder than words. I know this to be true as a longtime classroom instructor.

When I see someone leaning back in the chair with their arms folded across their chest, I know I've got a bit of a hard nut to crack! -- someone who really doesn't want to be in my classroom at the moment and would rather be doing a root canal on a Rottweiler! :-)

Although I don't have a partner or significant other, I have enough life experience and professional experience under my belt to know that the information you've shared here is absolutely invaluable!

Melanie
#blog30

Melanie Kissell

June 11, 2010

Every one of your tips are exemplary, Evelyn! I just like to put my two cents worth in sometimes and tell people there really is a wrong way and a right way to "fight", if you will.

I"m a big believer that body language signs actually speak louder than words. I know this to be true as a longtime classroom instructor.

When I see someone leaning back in the chair with their arms folded across their chest, I know I've got a bit of a hard nut to crack! -- someone who really doesn't want to be in my classroom at the moment and would rather be doing a root canal on a Rottweiler! :-)

Although I don't have a partner or significant other, I have enough life experience and professional experience under my belt to know that the information you've shared here is absolutely invaluable!

Melanie
#blog30

Evelyn Brooks

June 11, 2010

Melanie, thank you SO much - you are a dear to give me so much support and encouragement (and praise!) Yes, body language does give an awful lot away, doesn't it?

Evelyn Brooks

June 11, 2010

Melanie, thank you SO much - you are a dear to give me so much support and encouragement (and praise!) Yes, body language does give an awful lot away, doesn't it?

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