My wife asked me a question, a simple question. “Where’s the cinnamon?” But there was an edge of irritation in her voice that sent “my mind a wandering.” Why does she sound irritated? Does she think I stole it? Why would I steal cinnamon? She is probably accusing me of putting things in the wrong place or not even putting them away at all. What’s the big deal with cinnamon anyway? Why does she always think the worst of me? On my mind ran, escalating my fears and defensiveness. You can imagine my response was less than ideal.
Have you ever had a similar experience? Your spouse asks a simple question and sounds slightly agitated. The agitation strikes a fear within you. You jump to a conclusion and assume the agitation is pointed toward you. You personalize it and think it’s all about you. It’s a common response, but not the best response.
When we take our spouse’s agitation personally, it almost always makes the interaction go south. When we personalize their agitation, we tend to respond with defensiveness. They hear our defensiveness and feel misunderstood. And so begins a downward spiral of communication that began when we personalized our spouse’s mood and thought it was all about us.
But I have a secret for you…and for me. It’s not all about you…or me. Most of the time it’s about something totally unrelated to you…or me.
What can we do instead of personalizing and getting defensive? How can we nurture a better response and interaction? Good question. Here are some suggestions (given in no particular order).
- First, take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you start talking to yourself. Begin with statements of curiosity: “Hmmm. I wonder what’s going on here.” Then offer yourself soothing internal thoughts in a calm tone using calm words. Remind yourself of the love you and your spouse share.
- Second, believe the best about your spouse. Practicing a calming internal dialogue, leaves space for alternative meanings to your spouse’s behaviors and words. It allows room for a compassionate interpretation of what your spouse said or did. Look for those compassionate, loving interpretations and let your mind dwell on them.
- Third, acknowledge your spouse’s feelings in a calm, non-defensive way. Simply reflect back the emotion you perceived in what they said. This opens the door for clarification and communication. It provides space for your spouse to clarify what’s going on for them and for the two of you to come together in a common understanding.
These 3 simple steps can help save an interaction from the downward spiral of personalizing, defensiveness, and feeling misunderstood. They will help you create a calm interaction of clarification and support instead. That will go a long way toward building a more intimate, loving relationship. And it all begins with realizing that “it’s not all about you.”