“I Don’t Know What You Want Me to Say!”

How Do I Turn this Fight Around?

Everything was going well. You were getting along, sharing and laughing. Then it happened. All of a sudden she got quiet. You turn and see a tear was rolling down her cheek.

When you asked, “What’s wrong?” all you got back was, “Nothing. I’m fine.”
Then, dead silence!  Rut ro!  What do you do now?  If you are like most people, you probably say or do the same stupid thing that makes everything worse. Days go by and you don’t talk to each other. You pray that it will blow over.

Well, after 25 years as a marriage therapist, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t and it won’t. It just goes underground and festers…until the next fight! Then it all gets dredged up again.

You know I’m right!

So what to do? Let’s start by remembering what NOT to do.

  • Don’t say the thing you ALWAYS say in this situation.
  • Don’t start yelling.
  • Don’t do the “two can play this game.”
  • Don’t roll your eyes.
  • Don’t start apologizing before you know what’s going on.
  • Don’t pretend you didn’t notice.

Why? Because if it hasn’t worked so far, what makes you think it will help now?

What you get to do now is to break the old pattern of fight or flight. You get to stay connected by doing or saying something completely different. It doesn’t have to be brilliant or inspired. It just has to be different. Different actions yield different results.

Here are some things you can try saying….

When you feel like the fight is about to start…

  • “I am afraid I’m going to say or do something stupid..and I don’t want to. Help me think of something better to do instead.”
  • “I am afraid we about to fight and I want to prevent that.”
  • “When I get frustrated or scared, I am tempted to do/say ____________ and I know that won’t help.”

When you want to encourage her to stay connected and in the conversation…

  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I want to feel close to you right now. How can we do that?” (You might start by turning off the TV or computer and giving her your full attention.)
  • “Oops! I felt a huge disconnect just happened. Let’s fix this!” This says “We’re in this together.”

When you notice she is not interacting or making eye contact …

  • “I want to stop here and find out what you are feeling because you’ve gotten quiet.”
  • “I am afraid that I lost you or said something that shut you down.”
  • “How can I draw you back into this conversation?”

When you get lost in your own emotions and have stopped listening…

  • “I’m sorry. I lost track for a minute. Please get me up to speed.”
  • “It’s hard to me to listen right now because I’m upset too.”
  • “I’m getting overwhelmed. Mind if we take a 10 minute break, so I can clear my head. Then I want us to get back together in a few minutes to talk.”

When you are feeling frustrated and want to lash out or walk out…

  • “I’m scared that I offended you. I want you to know I didn’t mean to.”
  • “Your silence makes me want to run away. I want to understand.”
  • “I’m frustrated with me too!”

Take these ideas and put them into your own words.

Finally, think about the results you want to achieve, not just the fastest way to get out of this. Keep trying different things until you get the results you want.

Please share your ideas in the comment section below.



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