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Minimize or mock a complaint (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#301)

One of the worst things we can do when someone makes a complaint in a relationship is to minimize it, or even worse, to mock the complaint by our words or actions.

When the wife in the scenario that we are discussing complained that the husband does not help with cleaning up the mess, he minimized and mocked her complaint by picking up one tiny thing and then saying: There,I helped. Now are you happy?

This is an example of Reductio ad absurdem "Reducing to absurdity" which deflates others by making their wish, complaint, or idea sound silly or foolish.

We can also minimize a complaint by saying something like: Why are you making such a big deal about something so little?

Not only is this kind of response to a complaint minimizing and hurtful, it devalues our partner and what is important to them.

Not a great way to build a relationship.

If you wanted to repair the interaction on the other hand, try understanding the meaning and feeling behind the complaint instead.

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Counterattack instead of responding to a complaint (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#300)

When the husband complained about the mess, the wife instead of responding to the complained, counter-attacked by saying: I don’t see you lifting a finger to help".

She also said: Your mother spoiled you rotten, but I don’t have to take your [nonsense]

A statement such as this does two things: firstly, it escalates the conflict.

Secondly, it diverts the conversation and introduces a new area for potential conflict.

As we can imagine (and may have experienced), when we try to "kitchen-sink" an argument by complaining and cross-complaining about other issues, we cannot get a resolution on any of the issues.

Also, by introducing many areas of conflict into a single argument, we start feeling discouraged about the state of the relationship in general. The problems start appearing larger than our resources to handle it.

Given such an exchange, how could the couple have handled it differently?

1. He could have taken responsibility

He: [Knows the subject is charged, so he takes...

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Blame the other for how you feel (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#299)

It is sooo tempting to blame the other person for how frustrated or upset we are feeling. After all, we are feeling awful and it must be someone’s fault, right?

The husband in the example blamed this wife for driving him crazy:
You’re so messy it drives me crazy.

This is a very common pattern in couple interactions. We link our feelings directly to someone else’s actions. And then we let them know. In not-so-kind language. Usually by attacking.

Here’s the thing: when we attack someone, they are biologically hardwired to defend themselves or to exit the conversation. (Ever heard of the fight or flee response?)

Without a significant level of self-awareness and self-development training, it is extremely challenging to bear the brunt of an attack without defending or counter-attacking.

Blaming also assumes that the listener is the cause of the speaker’s actions or experience, and that is simply not accurate.

The issues that trigger us generally belong to...

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Exaggerate the negative (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#298)

The second issue with the conversation between the couple is that of "Over-statement" (There you go, always criticizing when you first get home.)

When we say things like "always" or "never", the other person’s brain is gets too busy finding exceptions to "always" or "never" to hear our concerns, even if they are legitimate.

Moreover, nothing (almost nothing!!) ever happens ALL THE TIME or NONE OF THE TIME. We can safely say that this husband has come home on many occasions and not criticized when he first got home. And when he hears this statement from his wife, his brain is scrambling to remember all those occasions.

What could the wife have done instead?
She could speak with accuracy and restraint in response to his complaint about the mess.

This is what it would sound like:

She: [Warily, but with a touch of humor] You’re doing pretty well, this is the first time you’ve complained about that this week.

If we take our time to pause before speaking and avoid...

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The foolproof way to have a fight (DW#296)

Whether a relationship is strong, fulfilling and healthy (or not) depends to a significant amount, on the quality of the daily interactions between the people who form the relationship.

What happens during these interactions and communication exchanges on a day to day basis determines the emotional climate of the relationship over time which in turn determines whether or not the people in the relationship feel connected and happy.

Having positive interactions and good communication does not mean that the relationship is free of conflict. Relationship experts agree that to have a relationship free of (apparent) conflict is neither desirable nor healthy. In fact, many would argue that the presence of conflict is an opportunity to grow as an individual and for the relationship to become more intimate as well.

The conflict, does of course, need to be handled skillfully in order for this to happen.

Let’s take a common example from family life to understand this better. The...

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The truth about lying (DW#295)

As we wrap up our discussion on telling the truth about lying, let’s look at some interesting facts and studies from experts about truth and lying

· Research by Kim Serota, a marketing professor at Oakland University suggests that at least in North America, the average person tells one to two lies a day. (People tell more lies in January than any other month. The average person tells 217 lies in January (about seven per day). His research also suggests that "prolific liars" tell a lot more lies than that – according to his study, 5% of people tell approximately half of all lies!

· Most lies are told to get ahead in the workplace, to avoid being criticised or rejected or to hide something from family members. The most benign reason that people lie is to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

· Our culture condones dishonesty and because of this, our own truthfulness declines . "There’s something antisocial about being too honest," says David...

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Listening well is not about techniques (DW#287)

As we wrap up our discussion on mindful listening, let’s remind ourselves of the key messages on listening well.

Really listening to another requires our attention and putting aside our own agenda for the moment.

It is not about agreeing, disagreeing or giving advice. These may or may not be needed but the first step in any case is to understand the speaker.

Only after we have conveyed our understanding to the speaker, and they know that we "get" what they are trying to say will they be ready to listen to our point of view or advice.

True listening then, is not about techniques or demonstrating that we know the skills of "active listening". It is about the intention to pay attention to, and understand, the other person’s model of the world.

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Convey your understanding (DW#286)

As we have been discussing, it is challenging to listen to understand, especially in close relationships.

So given all the challenges, how do you know if you have actually understood what your loved one is trying to tell you?

Here's how to check your understanding:

First, you need to repeat back what you have understood. This can be as simple as repeating the exact words they have said, or by paraphrasing their words.

And then checking in with them:

Did I get that right?
Is there more?
Is that what you mean?
Let me see if I have understood you . . .

While you are checking in with them, you do need to make sure that your tone of voice and your body language convey humility and the intention to understand.

You will know if you have understood if they tell you that you got it!

Or if they let out a sigh of relief

Or if they spontaneously hug you . . .

Yes, listening to understand is challenging and no, it does not come naturally.

And it gets much easier with practice.

The increased...

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