Is communication with your partner like a volley ball game where blame gets tossed back and forth?
Some couples communication patterns are filled with blame, accusations, finger pointing and fault finding. Some issue comes up in the conversation that seems to push the defensive button for a least one partner. Because relationship communication goes back and forth in a circular motion, one defensive reaction can set off a chain reaction of volleys.
Joe with some frustration in his tone of voice says, “Jane, where did you put my book?” Jane feeling annoyed that she is being blamed for losing Joe’s book, snaps back, “I didn’t put it anywhere, you probably lost it!” Joe replies with a raised voice, “No I didn’t lose it, you must have moved it. You always move my stuff and don’t even remember doing it!”
Jane yells back, “Don’t blame me for your stupidity and forgetfulness.” The argument goes on and on with more frustration, increased anger and the tossing of blame back and forth.
This type of communication could be on the mild side with continual bickering, teasing and putting the responsibility for some type of problem or mistake clearly in your partner’s lap. Or this could also become filled with temper tantrums and very angry exchanges with mean and abusive comments that may hurt and wound your partner.
If you stop this process (as I often do in my counseling sessions with this type of couple) in the middle of their fight and ask them what they feel, they will usually say hurt, frustrated, not heard or validated and sad that this is what they do. If couples cannot learn to stop this cycle of conflict, it will eat up any good, positive and loving feelings they have for each other and leave a highly stressful and tension filled environment between them. This tension filled “climate” is hard to hide and will be felt by their children and other family members as well.
What you can do
– If two partners agree to stop the process as soon as it is obvious it will go nowhere, this is a good start.
– If you cannot get your partner to agree to stop you can say, “I’m really tired of us talking to each other this way and I want to stop. When I feel our communication is stuck in this pattern, I’m going to call a ‘Time Out’. This means I will stop and hope you will too. If you won’t, I’m going to leave the situation and I don’t want you to follow me. When I and we have cooled down and want to restart our communication, I will return and ask you if you are ready to talk about the issue. At that point we could each take turns talking and listening to each other.”
– For specific ways to stop this pattern of communication or any pattern that ends in frustration see:
Rules for Taking a Time Out and Ground Rules for Talking; (book) Taking Space pgs 16 -17; Couples Home Study Course and Workbook Step 1 CD.