I was meeting with a client, James, the other day who was lamenting his wife’s behavior. It seemed to James that his wife found fault in virtually everything he said or did.
Naturally, he would often become angry and defensive in response to her criticisms.
I explained that critical people are often very self-critical and have unresolved insecurities. I also pointed out how his wife’s criticisms and her tendency to take offense from his innocent statements and actions most likely represented her insecurities.Critical people are often very self-critical and have unresolved insecurities.Click To Tweet
When he responded with anger and defense, it hurt her much the way her criticisms hurt him.
James was stumped.
How could he respond to the stream of constant criticism and misinterpretation without pointing out his wife’s fallacy, or defending himself and his innocence?
After a bit of discussion, James agreed that what he really wanted was for their relationship to be accepting and loving; for them both to be given the benefit of the doubt and for the cycle of criticism and anger to stop.
What I taught James is what I’ve taught numerous clients:
How to turn a negative relationship pattern into an opportunity for emotional intimacy.
(1) Take a leadership role.
Don’t sit around and wish the other person would change their behavior. Stop and realize that you can change a relationship by changing your participation in it.
(2) Validate and support feelings.
Realize that your partner’s criticism or accusation is based on their negative assumptions. And if they believed their negative assumption — for instance, “James doesn’t care about my needs” — then that would be hurtful.
So James could offer empathy for that feeling. He could try saying,
“I could see where if you see me as not caring about your needs, that would be extremely hurtful. I’m glad you’re telling me your feelings because I care very much about your feelings.”
James is not agreeing with his wife’s assumptions, only validating and caring about her thoughts and feelings.
(3) Share your own reality.
Now that you’ve acknowledged, validated and supported your partner’s thoughts and feelings, your partner is going to feel a lot better and more open to you. This offers the opportunity for you to share your own thinking and intentions in a way that can help your partner understand you and where you are coming from a lot better.Acknowledge your partner’s thoughts and feelings if you want him or her to be more open with you.Click To Tweet
Follow these three steps to take yourself out of a potential argument and even a chronic negative pattern and put yourself on the road to emotional intimacy… in other words, knowing and responding to each other’s thoughts and feelings in a caring and supportive way.
Have you found a way to turn a negative relationship pattern into an opportunity for emotional intimacy?
I’d love to check out some of your thoughts and stories in the comments below.