We all do it sometime—say that one terrible thing that hangs in the air. The moment it’s out of your lips you wish you hadn’t said it. Your heart pounds a little in anticipation of your partner’s response. Will he think you’ve gone too far? Will your relationship ever be the same again? Will he ever forgive you?
What can you do when you’ve said that awful thing you shouldn’t have said?
Certainly, you should offer a genuine and heartfelt apology. And promise never to say such things again. But apologies are hollow if you have to make them over and over again. The only way to repair the damage is to change your behavior so you don’t continually make the same mistake. And make sure you keep to your promise so that, in time, your partner can begin to trust that you will not violate his trust.
Here are some strategies for making long-term improvements.
Be empathetic. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If he had said to you what you said to him, how would you feel? Would your feelings be hurt? Would you be fed up with him? Would you think you didn’t deserve such cruel—and perhaps abusive—words? Would you think you shouldn’t put up with such behavior? How might you react? If you imagine how your partner might feel before you say an unkind word, perhaps you can stop yourself before any real damage is done. This is difficult to do but If you are putting your relationship in jeopardy, isn’t it worth working on controlling what you say?
Think before you talk. This is really hard to do and it takes practice. But it’s a skill worth mastering. Train yourself to hear alarm bells go off before you open your mouth. Just stop. Stop. Take a step back in your mind and review what you’re about to say out loud. Edit yourself and rephrase your thought in kinder language.
Be aware of rising anger. Get to know your own body and your own emotions. When you feel the heat of irrationality overtake your body and your calm evaporate into fury, that’s when you must find the inner strength to push your pause button. Learn from previous situations that have put you at risk of uncontrollable anger and try to avoid those situations all together. Or forewarn yourself that you about to enter into a situation that has been problematic in the past and be prepared to quell your anger.
Don’t accuse. Tell your partner how you feel when he upsets you, but don’t be accusatory. When you say, “You always forget to run the dishwasher. You’re so thoughtless! You must be doing it to annoy me,” it puts your partner on the defensive. A better approach would be to say, “I get so frustrated when you don’t run the dishwasher. I’d really appreciate it if you’d make an effort to run it when it’s full.” Use the “I” statement instead of the “You” statement.
Be an open-hearted listener. Listen to your partner fully and attentively—without judgment. Try to be as open-minded as possible—with him and with yourself. Accept that you’re both imperfect and you will do your best, but sometimes you will backslide. Learn to forgive yourself and keep trying to be compassionate. In time, your partner will see you’re making a real effort to build positive communication patterns that can only make your relationship better.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact