The “shut up and put up” strategy sounds inviting at first. You know, avoid the conflict and just go along for the sake of peace. After all, everyone enjoys a harmonious relationship filled with peace and quiet. Some people will put up with almost anything to keep the peace. “Little irritations…no big deal, I’d rather maintain harmony than rock the boat.” Unfortunately, those little irritations can pile up, getting heavier and heavier, until we feel smothered. In anger, we begin to lash out at minor irritations, packing them together into giant cannonballs that we can fire at our family. At that point, we know that the “shut up and put up” strategy has backfired and turned into a “lash out and stone ’em” reaction. The “lash out and stone ’em” reaction results in family pain and disconnection. If the “shut up and put up” strategy does not work, what’s a spouse to do?
Talk. Talk to your spouse about the behavior that bothers you; but, before you talk to your spouse, take time to think about the behavior and what it teaches you. Think about what you can learn from the irritating behavior about: yourself first and your spouse second. Here are some questions to guide your learning:
· How does this behavior bother you? Why does it irritate you? Does it represent some desire or priority that you feel is missing in your life?
· Does the behavior contribute to feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness? Does it make you feel unloved or unacceptable?
· Does your reaction to this irritation have anything to do with past events in your life–events first experienced in your family of origin or previous romantic relationships?
· What is your spouse’s intent in this behavior? What is their positive intent?
· Is this behavior a response to your behavior? For instance, does your spouse engage in this behavior when you make certain statements, jokes, or expressions?
· What are some ways your spouse makes you feel loved, accepted, and valued?
Once you take the time to learn what this situation can teach you about yourself and your spouse, talk to your spouse about it. Here is a simple way to approach this discussion.
First, tell your spouse at least one thing you appreciate about them. If you know that they had some positive intent in the irritating behavior, acknowledge it. Thank them for the positive intent, positive behaviors, and positive investment they make in your relationship. Doing so sets the stage for a more congenial interaction. Your spouse will know that you approach them in love and they will feel safer opening up to you. They will have an easier time hearing what you have to say since they feel appreciated. In other words, let your first statements be statements of love and appreciation, setting the stage for an open and loving interaction.
Second, give a specific example of the behavior that bothers you. Make it brief. Limit yourself to only one or two sentences in which you explain that behavior. By giving a specific example you help to limit arguing. Most people will not argue about an objective event that occurred. By keeping your description of the behavior brief, you limit the desire to become defensive or just “shut down” as they listen.
Third, make one statement that explains how this behavior makes you feel. Once again, only one statement. “When you do this, it makes me feel….” The specific example of the behavior is an objective description. This statement is a subjective feeling. Say it calmly, without accusation. Then move on to the fourth step.
Fourth, offer an alternative and more pleasing behavior that could accomplish the same goal. Offer a solution to the whole situation. Put it altogether and you get a simple, and brief, alternative to the “shut up and put up strategy.” Consider these two examples:
· “I realize you avoid telling me some things because you don’t like to see me upset and you want me to feel better. I appreciate your concern for me. However, when you interrupt me while I’m explaining a troubling situation to you and offer a solution, I feel unimportant to you and devalued by you. If you could just listen to me and let me know you understand my feelings, I would really feel better.”
· “Honey, I know that you really like a neat house and I appreciate how beautiful you keep our home. You are a great home maker. However, when we come home after a lovely night out and you immediately start cleaning, I feel like the house is more important to you than I am. If you could sit down with me for a half hour and talk when we get home, I will help you clean afterwards.”
Give it a try and check out the results. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised!