Really, What is it About That?

Posted on May 19, 2020


Your mate does some things that really bug you, huh?  When (s)he does that thing they do, it really makes you mad.  Can I invite you to reflect on what it is about that thing that upsets you so much?  If you answered, “It’s just rude?,”  let’s try to dig a little deeper.  The question here is not “what’s wrong with you mate?” but rather “what is the impact for you?”

If this isn’t making sense yet, let me try to clarify.  Suppose your partner has a habit of jumping in and finishing your sentences when you are talking.  As the years have gone on, you have found this increasingly irksome.  At this point when it happens, you usually find yourself responding with anger.

You may have never reflected on this, but I would assert that there is something behind this that makes you mad.  It could be that you feel that this makes you feel devalued (e.g. “What I was saying was not important to you.”).  It could be that it feels like an attack on your competence (i.e. “You feel that I am not capable of communicating clearly without your help.”).  Perhaps you interpret as I am an annoyance to you (“you want to get an interaction with me over as quickly as possible so you interrupt me.”).  It might be that it feels like your relationship is a parent-child relationship wherein you are the child.

In particular, men are frequently not very aware of why something really bothers them.  This often has something to do with feeling not good enough, not seen as competent, or disrespected.  For us guys, we grow up in a male culture in which it is continually asked of us, “Are you good enough?  Do you have what it takes?”  If in our closest relationship something happens repeatedly that suggests that the answer to that question is “no,” we really don’t like it.  But we aren’t allowed to be hurt that you see us as not good enough or afraid that I really don’t have what it takes in this relationship, so we get mad.  Anger is a socially acceptable emotion for us.

But I digress.

Here’s why this matters.  If you approach this from a what’s wrong with you partner angle, it won’t get you what you want, and it won’t improve the relationship.  Your anger could possibly train your partner not to do whatever it is that bugs you, but it won’t increase closeness, intimacy, and safety in the relationship.  What’s wrong with your partner is criticism.  Criticism is one of those patterns that is so damaging to the relationship that it has been identified as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse that leads to relationship demise.  Anger is generally a reactive emotion that will cause your mate to either defend (another horseman), withdraw, or counter-attack.

Part of the solution is being able to describe your reality.  This has three components: 1) the data (what you could see and hear if the incident had been recorded); 2) the story (how you made sense of it); 3) your emotional experience (how did that make you feel?).  Here’s an example.  “When you are late and don’t call me to tell me (the data), I feel not important to you (the story), and I get really hurt (emotion).”

The follow up to that will usually be making a request of your partner to do something differently.

This can be a really effective way to not only cope with relationship pain, but to bring about real change.  You love each other, right?  That’s why you are together.  If one of you is doing something that causes your partner pain, you would try to avoid it, yes?  That’s part of loving.  You want the one you love to feel loved, valued, and cared for.

This can be an effective technique, but it only really works if you can get underneath what it is like for you when your partner does that thing (s)he does.  There is something that it means for you that makes this a point of pain.  Trust me, if it’s making you angry, it is a point of pain.  It’s not about what is wrong with your mate, it’s about what it is like for you that makes this an important issue for you.

So really, what is it about that?