Okay, so you think you're a perfectly reasonable and logical
person. But sometimes, when your mate says or does something that
makes you feel criticized, ignored, or disrespected, you shout out
your defense and soon find yourself in a full-blown war of words.
You know the situation is out of control, but you don't know what
else to say to get your (totally reasonable!) point across.
For instance, a friend of mine was playing with her 4-year old
daughter in her bedroom while her husband was watching TV in the
living room. My friend was having a nice time playing with their
daughter until suddenly she looked up and saw her husband in the
doorway, shutting the bedroom door. Annoyed, she got up, pushed the
door open, walked straight to the living room, and yelled loudly
enough for her daughter to hear, "You're so rude!" Her husband
replied, "Well, I didn't want to hear the noise you two were making
on the toy piano." "Noise?" she countered. "The sound of your
daughter playing is noise to you? If you cared about your daughter
you'd shut off the TV and come play with us!
My friend's anger was understandable, but yelling at her husband
for such a small thing, and within earshot of her daughter? That's
inappropriate. And connecting his shutting the door to the notion
that he might not care about his daughter? Overreaction.
The red flag moment
It's easy for me to look from afar and declare my friend in the
wrong, but I've walked in her shoes and I know it's a lot harder to
bite your tongue in the moment. What I've learned, and taught
others, is that an overreaction can actually be a good thing. It
can serve as a red flag that something is missing…
As a general rule, overreactions happen when there is a gap
between how we feel and what we say. In the above example, my
friend didn't explain to her husband that she felt that their
daughter was missing out on special father-daughter time. She
wasn't upset about the door, but rather about that fact that even
on the weekends when her husband was home, she was still saddled
with the full responsibility of finding activities for their
daughter. She was frustrated and jealous because she felt that her
husband used TV time to escape from family time, and she wanted to
have some escape time herself. All of these points were reasonable,
but they weren't articulated in the heat of the moment. And even a
pretty good husband and father is not going to be a
Say what you mean, and mean what you say
When we overreact and then push the issue under the rug, the
storm of the battle passes quickly, but the hangover leaves its
mark. Rather than being embarrassed by our overreactions or
continuing to justify them, we should apologize and use them to
jumpstart deeper thought about the gap between what we are thinking
and saying. Once you've filled in the blank in your own head, go to
your mate, ask him/her to sit down with you a few minutes so you
can apologize and explain what you really meant. That kind of talk
leads to solutions. Happy couples do fight, and they also know how
to make up.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator,
and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute
Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or
Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America,"
and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. Visit her at www.fightlesslovemore.com
Relationship advice from best-selling author Laurie Puhn
See more of Laurie's stories here.
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