Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Temperament part 1

I'm a sensitive sort of soul (read - Red Hot Irish Temper), it's been a burden to bear my whole life. Tears unbidden filling my eyes, the inability to think rationally as emotions have seemed to have formed into words and taken over my mouth, never needing to say how I felt since words magically appeared all over my face like someone had written them with a Sharpie.

I could never take teasing. It always resulted in hurt feelings and tears. Always. I'm not sure if I just take myself too seriously or if it was more that I interpreted every jest as a personal blow, feeling like I never had anyone's approval.

I used to clam up. I'd clench my jaw shut and do an inward drill sergeant routine, yelling at myself to keep it together, no tears, no tears, NO TEARS! I'd take all that hurt and stuff it.

When Jake and I started dating this did not fly for him.. after all, the Sharpie words across my face told him I was hurt anyway. He is a talk-it-outer and also, I attribute this to his maleness, felt a need to resolve and "fix" everything ASAP. It was too painful for him to let something be at unrest and so he started pressing me and working with me to share feelings with him when I had them.

It was about a year or so after dating that one time he held his head in his hands and said "What have I done?" as I became quite comfortable with expressing my emotions with the man and letting him know when I was upset (especially since he comes from a family that teases a lot to show affection, he and I had a lot of little quarrels over his "affectionate" teasing). But for the first time in my life, it felt SO GREAT to let it all out.

Since then, I have gone through unhealthy cycles of stuffing, venting, stuffing, venting. Sometimes the venting came out on the wrong person either snapping at an innocent victim, or by verbal vomit all over some listener who would massage my ego.

So aside from not really having a good communication skills to use I also had this approval issue deep down inside.

I'll touch on approval in Part 2.

In the communication department, this is something Jake and I have been working on since the beginning of time... well, since the beginning of our relationship. Fundamentally, we have had to come down to using basic clarifying questions. Because of 2 issues - 1) my taking things personally and getting defensive and 2) him using "teasing" as a mechanism of trying to get a point across.... which cycles back to #1 for me getting more upset and more defensive, and more of #2 from him, on and on and on.

Our questions are simple and perhaps you use them effectively in communicating already, but here they are anyhow.

When you feel threatened, allow there to be room that it is not how the speaker meant. The best question for us has been "What do you mean by that?" Which sometimes.. sounds incredibly simple but allowing the person to clarify their statement can do a lot. And the second agreement we came to was to not get defensive or attacking when the other person says "I feel" Any statement made with the words "I feel"at the beginning is code for "I want to say this WITHOUT fighting and it's NOT INTENDED to hurt you personally"

Again, sounds simple.. but if you're in a conversation that is starting to get heated and the person says the time out phrase "I feel" ... you realize you can step back, you do not have to either defend yourself or take the comments personally. You are not being criticized or yelled at. The person is clarifying their feelings, which often helps you understand the meaning behind some of the statements previously made. And if you're really good and you can stay calm enough to help the person work through those feelings without taking any responsibility that's not yours, you'll really succeed at using this tactic.

For me personally, I sometimes have a hard time accepting that the statement at the end of the "I feel" is not somehow my responsibility or refraining from explaining how their feelings are wrong or aren't what I intended. But the big relief in using this has been that I can relax my defenses to know "This isn't being said to attack me" and I can calm down to listen.

It's also worked well on the other end when I can actually remember to use it instead of lashing out. I actually recognized it in practice last night. Jake started making some jokes at my expense on the phone on his way home - which sometimes I may joke along with, but last night.. it just wasn't striking me as funny. I almost made a cutting comment back when I realized "Whoa, stop! You're about to do it!!!" So I took a deep breath and said "I. Feel. Like. I'm. Being. Picked. On." Yes, I said it choppy like that. You know what happened next?

He LAUGHED! Yes, there was a time where that would have thrown me into a McFrenzy (which is a red hot Irish tempered frenzy), and he said "Well, why ever would you feel that way?" all smarmy-like knowing full well he was teasing me. "UUuuuuhh.... maybe because you're picking on me?" and I added "and.. it's making me feel upset. I'm starting to feel like I need to defend myself."

And you know what he said? He said "Ok. Sorry, I took it too far." And that was that.

Wow. 8 years ago we would have gotten into a fight because I made some sort of cutting remark that he would've thought came out of no where and it would have taken a good 2 hour conversation to diffuse the whole situation.

So I encourage you, if you feel like you get into a communication rut with your spouse try bringing some clarification to your communication. Even have a discussion about doing so! About how you may want to handle a situation once it arises. Come up with some ideas on questions you think would be good ones to ask.

Are there any particular good clarifying questions you are already using?

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Wow! Are you my twin!