At times we feel exasperated and antagonized. It’s as if we’re not being listened to, like our needs are irrelevant. We want the person in front of us to get it. It’s at this exact moment when we allow our words to run away from us, when we say things we regret later. But, at times, we don’t realize exactly what we’re saying. The idea of what we’ve said is not the message understood by our partner. So, instead of reaching an understanding, everything spirals out of control.
How much attention should we pay to our words? And, even when we do that, do we think that the random ones we feel don’t mean much? If we want to be heard and understood, we also need to think about what we’re actually saying.
Do you remember a moment you started an argument with, “You always_____.”?
Who’s the last person you said, “You never_____.”?
When we’re attempting to have a conversation with our partner, the use of generalizations, particularly the ones mentioned above, are unlikely to lead to a fruitful conversation. The more possible results they bring is a total shutdown of communication. The person who uses never and always suddenly only sees things in black and white, while the one who receives them stops listening because all their actions have been summarized into a yes or no question.
One side will feel under appreciated, because they might have done said mistake once or twice, but certainly not always. The side handing over the accusation forgets the moments when their partner actually did do the things they claim they never do. It’s a complete lose-lose moment.
While a couple might get over a specific fight, the truth is that the use of those generalizations fractures the trust between the two. From that moment on, one party will feel they’re being judged and graded, while the other will look with suspicion every act from then on.
But how can a relationship get past this, or at least, how can we prevent this from occurring with our future partners?
The most important part about this is, in the heat of the moment, when we’re upset, we should probably try to take a breath instead of going straight into attack mode. Because once we say a hurtful or exaggerated comment, there’s really no turning back. It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it will be quite a process going back to before.
If we’re the one being told we never or always do something, we should avoid answering in the same mode. Instead, eye contact or even touch can restart the conversation. Answering your partner’s claims with, “I hear what you’re saying, you think I always/never do this. Am I understanding correctly?” It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, but at least you’re letting them know you’re listening.
Empathy from either side is also a good strategy. Try to understand why your partner is reacting this way. Is it possible that you’ve been unaware of a particular situation? Perhaps they’re upset about something else? Try to connect with them on why they’re feeling this way. It might be that their frustration is due to an external problem they might think you’re disregarding. On the other hand, you might want to think about how these absolutes of "never" and "always" are making your loved one feel. They’re no longer being seen as whole person, but as a series of moments that can only be good or bad.
What solves the dead-end results of these generalization is actual communication. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind or wait until they tell you what they need. If you think they’re not helping you with your needs, tell them. If you feel like they require of something, ask them. Verbalizing these issues, before reaching the boiling point, can actually help dodge these bullets. Opening instead of shutting down the paths of communication could lead to you and your partner connecting on a deeper level. It will also avoid a snowball effect of resentment.
The crucial question here is why we let things get this far? Do we need to reach a full-blown fight before airing things out? Wouldn’t it be better to dodge misunderstandings and let the person we’re with know what’s happening? If we trust our partner, we should be able to talk to them about the problems we’re facing. Assuming the other person is either content or oblivious, instead of digging out the truth, can only result in disaster.
Let’s remember that when it comes to relationships, this is a two-way street. Both parties can be guilty of generalizing, not communicating, or simply reacting rather than listening. That’s why it’s up to both parties to try and come up with solutions. Either one can start the conversation and try to hear the other one out. You might be surprised to find out your partner feels just as under appreciated, ignored, or misunderstood as you do. Instead of handing out blame, discover where the information is getting lost. What comes out of this dialogue could result in a new perspective on your relationship, maybe even a fresh start.
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Images from The Way We Met