Getting Pulled into the Storm
Recently, severe weather like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has wreaked havoc in the lives of humans in this globally warming world. Watching footage of these current storms with up to 185 mile per hour winds is scary and my heart goes out to the victims.
These storms made me think of how we can get sucked into emotional storms in our relationships with others. Unskillful communication can contribute to this distress.
I want to revisit a blog post of August 8, 2017, about my hairdresser who asked me how to set limits with a friend who was calling her every night to talk for 3 hours about her broken marriage. I called her recently to see how it went and here is what she said.
This is how my hairdresser communicated with her friend.
CONFRONTATION: (in her own words)
“With everything going on, my heart is in it and I feel for you. I’m such a “fixer” but I can’t be here and hear you. It’s consuming my time, affecting my home life with my husband and my work life. I want to be here for you but not every single night. I want to talk about other stuff (than your relationship).”
Notice that she shared her feelings and stated a boundary of what she wanted.
That is what she said. I asked her how it went.
OUTCOME: (in her own words) “It’s a lot better. She is no longer calling me every night and sometimes I even call her. I no longer immerse myself in this negative conversation. When we talk, I change the subject to kids and school, stopped asking about the relationship, and have emphasized ‘moving forward’. I told her you can be angry constantly, which feeds the tension in the family, or walk in with a smile…I feel like I am no longer in the whirlwind of the “crap” storm. It’s better for both of us. I can set boundaries every time we talk by moving forward onto other topics. This has brought out better parts of me and her - makes me laugh and makes her smile. Her family notices that she is easier to be around. Even her kids seem happier.”
This speaker knows she has a tendency to be a “fixer”, for instance giving advice on how to move on. But she challenged this tendency to “fix” others, which was dragging her down. No longer feeling dragged down is illustrated by my favorite line, “This has brought out better parts of me and her – makes me laugh and her smile.”
Because of temperament (e.g. “I’m a fixer”) or just lack of knowing how – we sometimes cannot find our way out of suffering in some relationships. Deep exploration in therapy may be the boat that rescues us from suffering, or sometimes a communication tool might provide a metaphorical life vest.
In the case I just presented, a 3 part message worked effectively:
When you…(their behavior, e.g. “When you talk to me every night for three hours…”)
I feel…(my emotion, e.g. “My heart is in it…(but it is) affecting my home life…”)
I want…(some change in your behavior or theirs, e.g. “I do not want to be here every night; I want to talk about other stuff. “)
For more tools look for my upcoming book focused on better communication for a better life. vincentiaschroeterphd.com