You and your partner are just not seeing eye-to-eye on a particular issue. What others might see as a difference of opinion instead feels like a personal attack and, if you and your partner don’t calm down before attempting to talk it out, you are each likely to behave in a way that makes matters worse.
When faced with a perceived threat, some people argue, others simply overreact, and still others push their partner away emotionally. In some cases, people engage in some combination of these reactions, either together or one after the other.
Virginia Satir, in her book The New Peoplemaking (Science and Behavior Books, 1988), identified four “coping styles.” These coping styles —blaming, placating, intellectualizing, and irrelevance—often operate outside of our awareness and do, indeed, make matters worse. Satir advocated that we increase our awareness of these styles and their effects.
Once we are aware, we have the opportunity to be effective rather than reactive by responding to threat in more constructive ways —that is, asserting rather than blaming, listening rather than placating, detaching rather than intellectualizing, and being self-caring rather than irrelevant. An important part of being able to choose is to realize there is a choice.
The following will help you to clarify typical approaches to threat and their more constructive alternatives:
Typical Approaches to Threat
Blaming shifts responsibility for threatening events from us to others. When we are too concerned with the opinion of others, we blame them to protect ourselves from their expected accusations. In the belief that a good offense is the best defense, we substitute anger for fear. Forms of blaming include: discounting, stonewalling, contempt, hostility, nagging, demanding, attacking, abusing, and criticizing.
Alternative: Asserting ourselves means we take responsibility for our contribution to the problem. This means we make “I” statements about our feelings, our views of the situation, and the meanings we attach to events. We talk in a straight and direct manner about these thoughts and feelings.