By Steve Litt LCSW
Start softly and be gentle. Sounds good doesn’t it? Cue the Barry White music…on 3.
Just teasing. I am not talking about sex this time. Sorry.
This piece is about how to begin a conversation with someone you love when there is a complaint. First think about what you want to accomplish by bringing up this complaint. It should almost always be that you want something to change, but not at the expense of hurting your partner.
Starting softly sets the tone.
Try it the next time you have a complaint. A gentle beginning might sound like, “Hey, Babe, is this a good time to talk? If it is, I would love to have a few minutes with you to work on something.”
Follow that with, ” I was listening to the radio the other day and some financial guru was saying we all need to put more money in savings. I would like us to talk about that because I like the idea.” That’s so much better than, “You must think money grows on trees”, or, “The way you spend money, I will never be able to retire”, or, “You are just so irresponsible with money”, or some other poorly thought through rant.
Remember that the goal of bringing up a complaint is not to get your feelings out or to punish your partner for their behavior.
No, the purpose of a complaint is to work together to reach an agreement and to change things. Change is the goal, not venting. By the way that “Venting ” thing is all wrong. We are not going to blow up if we don’t vent a little. The boiler metaphor doesn’t resemble the way our brains really work.
If we blow off steam (another 19th century metaphor) we are going to hurt someone and train ourselves to dump anger on others. It might feel better, but the damage it does isn’t worth it.
Let me be the first therapist to tell you that its OK to stuff anger. This idea of always getting your feelings out is a psychological myth. Treating people well and communicating in effective ways doesn’t have to be done in anger. There is no reason to blow up at people.
Start Softly And Be Gentle. Anger’s purpose is to inform us that something needs to be changed. Work on that change and channel the energy from the anger into something that is constructive, softer and gentler.
Replacing rage or sarcastic behavior with effective communication can become addictive and you may reach the point where acting angry seems so useless.
You can’t stop feelings, but you can be informed by them and then behave in effective ways. You get to choose your response.