Need versus complaint means that you do not give examples. The example invites re litigation of a past event. You cannot change the past. You cannot even recall it perfectly. Asking for a need to be met has multiple advantages. We have no beef in the future because it has not yet occurred. We don’t have an argument, just a hope that in the future we do something. End of conversation.
With an example, there is the sense of blame, of defensiveness, of making certain the other person doesn’t think we are a bad person. If I can disprove the event, then I do not have to have those feelings that I do not like. Having said that, the person asking for needs to be met in the future has to be articulate enough that the listener understands them, perhaps with a couple minor clarifications.
She “Don, you’re being quiet. Is there something wrong?”
Me “Yes. I am feeling hurt. I don’t want to give examples because that generally means I have to prove that I was hurt and justify it to you. I would prefer not to do that. You would prefer that I give an example. Can I ask you to not disprove it, but use the clarifying and validating within the Talker/listener?”
“You said something about my car that didn’t sit well with me. It got under my skin. I am trying to think it through. Is it worth bringing up or do I keep it to myself?”
What is the response you would prefer to receive?
- You should not be so sensitive.
- You get hurt by everything.
- I don’t always say mean things.
- Great, now I have to watch what I say?
- I am afraid that anything I say could be taken the wrong way.
- I am hurt that you told me I was mean and cruel.
- You heard me wrong.
- Assume the best about me, that I would not hurt you (no matter what I say)
- Men should never admit that their feelings were hurt. It is a sign that they are weak and unmanly.
- Suck it up.
- Men complain too much.
- Why are you here, then?
- You are criticizing me by pointing that out.
- Tell me something good about me right now.
- Take care of my feelings now. I don’t need to listen to yours.
- You felt criticized that I said, “This is clean?” after you said that you decluttered it for the weekend so that you could drive us to the getaway.
- Oooh, that sounds rough. From your perspective, you had just paid for the hotel, cleaned the car, agreed to drive, pay for gas, pay for half the meals… you were being super generous and then I made a comment that made it seem like your car was not even clean by my standards, that you didn’t measure up. You felt like I was impossible to please after that comment. Added to that, I travel all the time for work and stay at really nice places, way better than anything you could afford and you felt like I was rubbing your nose in it.
- Let me clarify that. That comment was critical and you felt judged by me. It was not a huge deal, but it stung for you to hear that. You start to feel like I don’t like you when I make comments like this. I feel guilty for having made the comment. It was uncalled for and I should not have said it. I get that it would hurt anyone’s feelings.
Here’s where we focus on systems of communication. What the response was to my statement sets the tone for the next few minutes, as my statement of complaint set the tone. I thought I was doing a good job with softened startup, mostly focusing on how I felt rather than telling her what I thought she did wrong.
A little about me. I am super sensitive to criticism (years of therapy have helped this, but I am highly sensitive and try to do the right thing. I am earnest.) and in this case it was one more thing that I was doing wrong and the story in my head is that she does not like me. If you like me, then why are you holding me in contempt for so many different areas of my life.
Immediately thereafter, she asked me, “Why are you still here? What do you like about me?” I told you it felt weird to be telling what I like about her after just telling her “ I feel like you do not like me. That is not how those conversations normally go.”
When that happened, I thought to myself, “This is my issue, you just made it about you and want me to open up and I am feeling unloved, highly criticized (you, in the past few weeks, criticized my job, my writing, my leisure time, my parenting, the money I make and I how I spend it on groceries for my kids, my house, the way I dress). In this conversation, I now have to take care of you and your feelings and then compliment you? At what point does the fact that what you said hurt me come into play? At what point does it get to be about me? You have encouraged me to gently, with tact, tell you how your behavior affects me. I am unlikely to do that again with you. It felt like I was to blame because I was the one who brought it up. I am finding it hard to not go into pity party mode or overthinking.”
So, me talking about it made it significantly worse. It highlights that we do not communicate well. I question whether it is worth it to have those conversations or if that will guarantee the death of the relationship. If we do not have the conversations, then we will die a slower death. I have had relationships with people in the past who had these conversations very easily and my preference is to be able to say “ouch” when something hurts and then resolve it quickly.