It’s happening again…your spouse is going on about something you did or didn’t do. It’s remarkably predictable and easy to ignore. Perhaps you even keep watching TV or prepare dinner. You’ve learned the best way to fend off the attack is to let it happen and wait until your spouse gets tired of griping and leaves you alone.
I have an idea for you. I suspect you’ll think it is crazy. Most of my clients do. They look at me as if to say, “Really? Why would I do that?” I ask them to say three words. It’s just three little words, and they might surprise you. Ready? Here they are:
Tell me more.
WHAT? That’s crazy! Why would I ask somebody who is nagging and griping at me to keep going? You want me to invite them to do it more? I can’t imagine doing that.
Yes, I am asking you to encourage the person who is nagging or griping at you to tell you more about what is bothering them. Why? Because people who do not feel heard or understood (your spouse in this case) keep trying to get heard or understood. “Tell me more” shows you are listening and trying to understand.
Nagging and griping thrives on being ignored, blown off, or not taken seriously. You feed it when you do these things and even if it eventually stops, it will just pile onto the next time. However, if you stop feeding it by listening to it and trying to understand it, it has a much greater chance of going away.
“Tell me more.” Say it and then listen. Then, if you really want to freak your spouse out, say “I can see why you feel that way. Is there anything I can do to help?” If your spouse is not speechless at this point, listen to the answer and see if you can help out.
It is my belief and my observation that people who use these three words regularly experience less nagging/ignoring episodes and are happier in their relationships because they are giving the other person one of the most valuable gifts one human can give another: understanding.
Imagine you have this feeling that your face and your actions can’t hide. You are tense, upset, and confused. You don’t like the feeling and you’d like to do something about it.
Then, while you are still struggling with it, someone comes and says to you, “What’s wrong with you?”
Doesn’t really help much, does it? I wish more of us would say the following:
“Nothing is wrong with me, I’m having an emotion. I think what you really mean is: Can you change your emotion so I don’t feel uncomfortable?”
Rather, most of us hear that and assume there is something wrong with us for having a feeling or emotion. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are thinking and feeling humans and our emotions are an important and vital part of us. We are not wrong to have emotions, we were made to have them.
If you have committed this offense (and I know I have on multiple occasions), catch yourself next and use the following: “You look tense. Are you feeling tense about something?” Or, “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it?” Or, “You know, when I see you feeling this way, I realize I want to stop it so I feel more comfortable, but instead, I want you to know your feelings are important.”
My wife told me what she wanted for Valentine’s Day, so I did some “visual listening” and drew it out to make sure I understood. In #3 we are both on a date without our 7-month old, while we are both thinking of our 7-month old.
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My wife and my dad just looked at this one and then gave me one of those laughs where you know they didn’t get it, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. They just couldn’t take it literally.
Under-appreciation and insensitivity are a dual threat to relationships. They feed off each other. If I feel under-appreciated by my wife, it’s because I see her as insensitive to my needs. Then, I will be insensitive to her because she doesn’t appreciate me (why give her what I feel entitled to from her?). She will then feel under-appreciated due to my insensitivity and then respond by getting insensitive to me. And around it goes!