by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC
Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.”
― Wendell Johnson
“You never listen to me!”
“You always say that!”
Expletives aside, perhaps two of the most damaging words you can throw around in a relationship are “always” and “never.” Coupled with the word “You,” these statements can end a productive exchange before it has an opportunity to get started. Absolute statements are conversational arsenic because they remove choice and impose an external pressure that is difficult to diffuse once initiated. Keeping these absolute statements at a minimum can help keep your relationship from deteriorating into a street brawl. For some, drawing imaginary battle lines and then chucking emotional hand grenades is just what happens when there is an attempt to engage a spouse, partner or significant other on a deeper level. Yet, it is an unproductive and selfish endeavor simply to prove the other person wrong and validate profound feelings of resentment.
Remember: An argument is a failed discussion. Your hurt feelings are rarely about the trash never being taken out, the kids always misbehaving, or the dishes never getting done. You aren’t being heard, and there’s your frustration.
Argument words, when applied by one person onto another, regularly force the recipient to counter. Until the pressure has been dealt with, all levels of creative and authentic communication are ended, and you find that the maladaptive dance of “I said/you said” has begun.
A Severe Case of the Should-s, Musts and Have to-s
“You should take that job.”
“You have to stop acting that way.”
Channel Your Inner Adult
If I internalize the Should-s, the Musts and the Have-To-s and surrender to the expectations of others, I lose my creative voice; I give up my center. I could phone in my relationship at this moment simply because I see no point in continuing. Our reply to pressure is to rebel or to conform, fight or flight. Neither conformity nor rebellion allows for creative dialogue to flourish. Compliance is seen as good. Rebellion is seen as bad. Remember that little lesson from our teachers and our parents? The trouble is we are no longer children. To be a child means being in a position of powerlessness, to have limited choices and to not have the capacity or skills to manage life outside the confines of my thoughts. As adults, we have a responsibility to take ownership of our feelings and accept others for as they are, not as we wish them to be. Succumbing to pressure leads to a narrowing of existence. Relationships become a chore and a bore, “I always pick the wrong person.” Think about that as you wonder why you may, or may not, be satisfied in your current relationship with a significant other or friend. Under pressure from another, which I then choose to cultivate or purge in myself, there is no experience of authentic love. I am an active participant in a power struggle and a war for which there is no exit strategy. I have become subservient to another, and that will always end poorly.
If you would like to continue the conversation about your relationship or marriage contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.
In Good Health,