We are all unique. Differences are a natural part of every relationship, very much influenced by our individual perspective, personal history, and life experiences, as well as our physical, mental, and emotional well-being at any given moment in time. Rarely are differences themselves destructive to relationships; frequently, however, the ways couples, families and co-workers deal with differences is destructive.
Significant research has indicated that you can predict a great deal about a couple’s relationship by watching the first minute or two of how they deal with conflict. When one person or the other responds to someone’s expression of disappointment, sadness, frustration, anger, or concern in a way that adds more fuel to the fire (actively or passively), we eventually deprive ourselves of the opportunity to fully know and accept each other, create an environment in which it’s safe to confide, grow, and work through concerns, and become closer through our successful navigation of the challenges woven throughout our love and life experiences.
It’s vitally important to develop the habit of listening with empathy and a desire to understand when someone we love shares a complaint. This is easier to do when we’re comfortable with our own sense of self-worth and can be quite difficult when our self-esteem is low.
1. Start by being specific about the behaviour you’re not happy about (don’t attack, judge, blame or criticise), stick to the facts. What would a camera have recorded? What would an impartial observer have seen or heard?
2. Share how you felt (not what you thought) about what the listener did or said. When talking about how you felt, stick to the 4 basic emotions - angry, sad, happy and afraid. Below is a table which might help - often there are so many things we call feelings that are in fact, are thoughts, beliefs and judgements. For the purposes of the DTR and particularly in this section, it helps the listener to receive what we are saying when we stick to letting them know how we felt rather than judging or analysing their behaviour, so it's even more important here to use I statements.
3. Provide a recommendation by asking for what you want and take care to put it in a positive context. So instead of saying "I don't want you to shout at me any more", say "I'd like you to give me a complaint when you're angry with me, checking first when might be a good time to do so". Just because I'm asking for what I want doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen. This is an opportunity to clearly articulate what you want and then it's up to the other to decide how they're going to respond to the request.
Some examples of complaints with recommendations
“When you forgot to put the washing on last week and I had no clean underwear, I felt frustrated and annoyed. What I want is for you to keep your commitment when you say you will do something or to let me know if for some reason you will not be able to do something you committed to”
“When I came home last Friday after a long day and driving through an hour of traffic and the first thing you did was begin telling me things that you wanted me to do, I felt frustrated and anxious. What I would like is for you to wait an hour after I get home before bringing up things you want me to do.”