Truth Bomb Tuesday: A simple framework for de-escalating conflict
“In the end, I lost it at my husband, threw the loaf of bread at him and said ‘Stop trying to change me! I’m sick of feeling like I’m wrong all the time!”
And he said, ‘That’s exactly how I feel! I feel like you’re always trying to change me!’
But that can’t be right, can it Dymphna? How can we be having the same experience?”
I could sense that she wanted me to say something like, “Oh no honey, he’s obviously an idiot.” But I wasn’t about to take sides, and I’m more inclined to give people what they need, not just what they want.
So I said, “Well, poppet, do you want him to change? Do you want him to do things differently?”
“Well… yeah. Sure. But only because the things he does are creating problems for me. I’d be totally happy with him if he just stopped doing those things.”
So ok. I think this is a fairly common story. Partners (romantic couples but occasionally business partners) can find themselves living in a “culture of wrong” – where they both feel like they’re being judged all the time and that they just fundamentally not good enough.
It’s pretty toxic. You don’t want to spend long here if you can help it.
Now, number one, therapy is awesome. It’s totally worth it. Get an outside perspective. It always helps.
But what I might offer is that we can trust out intellect here.
When we can identify that something our partner is doing is not working for us, we can generally trust that. It’s right. And it’s a natural instinct to want to correct that behaviour.
And we do that in micro-doses all the time. Like, I told my hubby it annoys me when he leaves the toilet seat up, and after only like 400 times of telling him, he got the point, took it on, and stopped leaving it up.
These little pointers to course correction, in the right context, can be healthy.
Where it gets tricky is when the behaviour you want to correct is a strategy your partner is using to meet a particular need.
So when my hubby leaves the toilet seat up, there’s no fundamental need that that behaviour is meeting. It’s just absent-mindedness.
But if my hubby’s playing drums at 2 in the morning, and he’s doing that because his crypto investments are tanking and he needs to release his tension somehow, then simply focusing on the behaviour is only going to get you so far.
Because if he stops playing drums (the strategy), that leaves the need (processing anxiety) unmet.
And unmet needs are a problem, and a problem that’s just going to show up somewhere else.
And if you’re not careful, he’ll also confuse his strategy with his need as well. He won’t just feel it’s his drum playing that’s the problem. He’ll feel that he himself is the problem – his anxiety and his need to feel at peace.
And if he feels that he doesn’t have space to be himself – if he feels that he’s fundamentally not ok – he’s more likely to reflect that judgement back at you.
And before you know it, you’ve built a culture of wrong.
And so there’s a very simple but very powerful framework here. And that’s making sure you’re not confusing needs with strategies.
If you can sit down in conversation (and get outside help definitely if you can’t sit down in conversation) start with the behaviours that are bugging each other, but try and identify what needs those behaviours are serving.
Don’t focus on the behaviour. Identify the need. Don’t judge the behaviour and don’t judge the need.
All needs are valid.
And then once you’ve identified the need, then collaboratively come up with strategies and behaviours that are going to meet that need.
If you can do that collaboratively, then you should be able to avoid the behaviours that are bugging each other, while making sure everyone’s needs are met.
Look, I’m making it sound easy. It’s not.
But it is possible.
But maybe the only thing you need to take from today is the question: are we living in a culture of wrong?
If so, what are we going to do about it?