1.) Avoid Being ‘Right’- We can avoid using logic and reason to ‘disprove’ the validity of our partner’s emotional reaction.
■ Doing so can lead our partner to feel belittled, powerless, misunderstood, or attacked.
■ It does not matter that we believe that they ‘misperceived’ the event. Our partner’s emotional reactions are related to their perceptions (which can change information over time). If we acknowledge their perception, it can nurture understanding.
■ It it useful to be empathetic towards our partner’s experience as opposed to being fixated on making their perceptions consistent with our perceptions (this is futile anyway because perceptions are subjective).
2.) We can avoid being defensive to justify what we did. We can stop explaining why we did what we did.
■ Doing so can make our partner feel frustrated, rejected, invisible, confused and insignificant.
■ We can remember: the way that our partner perceived the event is all that matters. We can that they see things differently and accept our partner’s subjective perception as just their opinion, not a fact.
3.) Avoid counter critiquing – We can avoid responding to our partner’s criticism with our own criticisms about them.
■ Doing so can leave our partner feeling betrayed, insignificant, frustrated, and misunderstood.
■ Often, the only thing we need to do is listen. We can give our partner space for expression. Part of the price of admission for being in a relationship, is allowing our partner to express their feelings, which may be exaggerated.
4.) Avoid generalizations – When we make broad sweeping overgeneralizations, it leads our parter to feeling dismissed and therefore more likely to ‘tune out’. By being very specific, it increases the likelihood our partner can better understand us.
■ Doing so can make our partner feel as if we don’t want a support and prefer to be irritated, ignorant, or difficult. Overgeneralizations do not offer solutions, they push people away.
5.) Avoid being contemptuous by trying to prove that they are inherently flawed. We can avoid trying to attach permanent negative labels and pathologizing our partner.
■ Being mean doesn’t help anyone and usually creates more guilt to manage later.
■ Doing so can make our partner feeling attacked, hopeless, wounded, scared, angry and like giving up.
6.) Avoid tuning out, or putting up a wall.
■ Doing so can make our partner feel alone, abandoned, frustrated, rejected, and powerless.
■ We can stay emotionally available by using body language and staying physically present.
■ If we are overwhelmed, ask for a break and take some time to cool down (it doesn’t help to get emotionally escalated to the point of losing control). When we take a break, we can tell our partner what’re doing and when we will be able to return.
7.) Avoid Creating the Guessing game. We can be clear with our needs and emotions. We do not want to set out partner up to fail by requiring them to guess what we are feeling or to guess what we need.
■ Doing so can make our partner feel inadequate, incompetent, helpless, confused, guilty, or stuck.
■ It is a huge misconception that “if your partner loves you, they will intuitively know what you need and take action to meet your needs.” The truth is that we have enough trouble identifying and meeting our own needs, how can we know what someone’s are?
■ This expectation will leave us in a bind: either guilty for disappointing others or resentful for depriving ourselves.
■ If we want something, we can ask for it.
8.) Do not look for ways to fix the problem.
■ This is patronizing and will leave the listener feeling misunderstood.
It’s best not to assume that our partner is asking us to fix a problem they are dealing with. We are ‘fixing’ things by simply listening empathetically – this is what they want.