By Dr. Marta Adelsman
Life Coach in Communication and Consciousness
(May 6, 2020)
Kahlil Gibran, in his book The Prophet, instructs readers to “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” Hunkering down with my significant other during the pandemic makes that nearly impossible!
Many couples long for ways to decrease the amount of tension and stress that rises during times of… well, tension and stress! Reactions can happen so fast we find ourselves shouting before we know it. How can we avoid this tension with our spouse/partner?
We decrease communication drama by asking clarifying questions.
When we’re having an upset, often it’s because we don’t really understand what our partner said or did. Therefore, our minds fill in the blanks with made-up stuff, and we jump to conclusions about our partner’s motivation and meaning.
The result of those conclusions? Arguments. Taking time to ask questions slows down the interaction so we can get our emotions under control. It also enables us to understand what our partner really said.
We can get clear in three steps:
First, we recognize that we are, in fact, having a reaction. Our body gives us clues. A tightened jaw, a quickened heartbeat, turmoil in the gut – these and other body reactions let us know we’re being triggered.
Second, we stop, take a deep breath, and shift our focus inward to the emotions coursing through us. Usually, any sense of well-being has disappeared. Some form of defensiveness, anger or fear has taken its place.
Third, ask that clarifying question. The goal here is to understand, as fully as possible, what our partner really meant to say.
Two possible scenarios in which it serves us to ask clarifying questions relate to 1) motivation and 2) meaning.
Let’s take an example in which I want to discover my husband, Steve’s, motivation behind his words: “You didn’t lock the back door again last night before bed.” Perceiving a critical remark, I feel a familiar defensive tendency to insist I had locked the door.
Instead of arguing and playing emotional tug-of-war, I can ask, “When you said that, was it your intention to criticize me?” Then I wait for his response. In this way I check out the motivation behind his remark.
I may discover his statement stems, not from a desire to make me wrong, but from his concern for my safety. When he’s in Japan leading tours, he doesn’t want someone entering our house and harming me or our pups.
In another example, it serves me to clarify the meaning behind Steve’s use of a particular word or phrase that triggered me. Instead of making up stuff, I identify the offending word and ask a clarifying question.
For example, Steve might say, “You were sloppy in how you did the dishes.” The word ‘sloppy’ arouses tension and confusion, so that word becomes the focus of my questioning: “What’s your definition of ‘sloppy?’”
By asking a question to become clear, I have bought myself time to calm down. Instead of listening to my mind’s chatter about what Steve might have meant, I gain time to refocus on finding out what he really meant.
I had expected him to say ‘sloppy’ means I had left food on the dishes. Instead, he says, “The way you loaded the dishwasher could have been more efficient.” If I listen further, I might discover how I could improve my dishwasher loading and perhaps lower our water bill in the process.
Asking clarifying questions restores harmony during a time when we’re navigating the shoals of forced togetherness. Start practicing, and contact me if you need support.
Stay tuned for another tool!
Dr. Marta Adelsman is a Life Coach in Communication and Spiritual Consciousness. She works with people who want to know themselves and their purpose on the planet. If you are such a person, Dr. Marta will walk alongside you to support you to make spiritual principles practical and alive in your communication with others, with yourself, and in your life situations.
The tools Dr. Marta teaches help you to translate head knowledge of spirituality into compassionate, non-judgmental, life-affirming habits.
Visit her website, DrMartasMusings.com for more information.