If we have something to say to someone and we think it may start an argument, many of us will shy away. Whether we do or not, the situation is stressful; anticipation of the argument is stressful and avoidance of the argument is also stressful because the issue isn’t getting resolved. And, if we do bring it up and we do have the argument that, too, is obviously stressful. For everyone involved.
Stress if you do, stress if you don’t… what to do?
Let’s look at this objectively. I think that a lot of arguments and yelling/screaming matches are a result of our knee-jerk tendency to be defensive. If you are going to confront someone with a criticism or complaint of some sort, their immediate defensiveness gets everyone’s back up and then you have two people who are being defensive: the person being criticized as well as the criticizer
Here’s a technique that my wife and I have used with great success. If there is going to be an argument it usually won’t be as severe and, as a result, lowers the stress of the conversation as well as the stress of anticipating that conversation.
It is really very simple. Begin the conversation with, “I’d like to ask you to put on your adult hat.”
What does that mean? When we have on our “adult hat” we tend to drop the defensiveness (a childish reaction) and look at the subject objectively (an adult reaction). It removes the element of surprise, which in turn removes the defensiveness.
“I’d like to ask you to put on your adult hat.”
“Uh-oh… what did I do?”
“Is it on?”
“I’ve noticed lately that you have been leaving a lot of dishes for me to do and I really don’t want to be responsible for cleaning up after you.”
At this point I can look objectively at her complaint and, if I truly believe that her complaint is a bit exaggerated, I can calmly discuss it instead of blowing up and being defensive.
Lowers the stress of anticipation, the stress of the conversation for her and the stress of hearing it for me… and that’s the idea!
This article is one in a series on coping strategies for patients and caregivers alike.