At times in relationships, we let our feelings get the best of us. Some people allow their anger to cover hurt, sadness or fear and then attack their partner by unloading a dump truck full of venom and frustration on them. This venting type of communication is completely aggressive. Others tend to stuff their feelings and upset, making cryptic comments or saying nothing at all.
A far better approach would be to give ourselves a timeout when we are full of anger or feeling overly emotional. Breathe deeply. And consider how we might deliver the whole message. The idea of delivering a whole message provides a template for communicating important, especially emotionally charged, concerns.
Instead of saying something like: Where were you? I can’t believe that you didn’t call. You never consider my feelings. You are so selfish; only ever do exactly what you want (aggressive approach). Or sulking in silence (passive-aggressive approach).
Delivering a whole message would go something like: You said that you would be home by 9:00. When it was 10:00 and I hadn’t heard from you, I started to feel worried and scared. I assumed that either you were hurt or you didn’t care enough about me to let me know you were going to be late. When you walked through the door at 11:00 and were fine, I jumped to the conclusion that you did not care about me. Next time, could you please call or text if you are going to be late?
The whole message type of communication is assertive, rather than aggressive or passive-aggressive. It allows you to stand up for yourself in a constructive way. A whole message includes:
Just the facts. Avoid using judgmental language. Leave out the “you always (never)” or “as usual” comments. Avoid labeling your partner.
Be honest about how you feel or how you felt. Instead of just saying I was angry, dig deeper, there is something underneath that anger. Try to identify what you felt before you were angry. That feeling might have been sadness, disappointment, fear, hurt, embarrassment, humiliation or something else.
Consider the assumptions that you made or conclusions to which you may have jumped. What was the story that you were telling yourself about the situation?
What would you prefer instead? Start looking toward possible solutions. Phrase this as a request—could you please. Or express it as a preference—what I would prefer is for you to please do this instead.
Pausing to breathe when we are upset, taking time to consider the facts, acknowledge our feelings, own our assumptions, think about possible solutions, and then deliver whole messages give us a template to effectively address difficult situations. Using these communication strategies makes it easier for our partner to hear what we have to say and much more likely that they will respond positively. They are simple, but extremely valuable communication tools.