Did a relationship talk today. Walked away realizing that I really ought to have spent the entire 50 minutes having them practice the basic sentence we all need to know in order to solve conflict in relationships:
“When you say/do X, I feel Y.”
Not blame, not anger, just a statement of reality. It just happens to be true that “When you X, I feel Y.”
That sentence is the single one that you need to communicate with your partner when they’re doing something that hurts you.
If their response is anything other than, “Oh I see, what you’re saying is that when I X, you feel Y” (i.e., anything other than reflection that they understood and have empathy), then what you do is: repeat yourself.
“No, listen. I need you to understand this. I need you to understand that when you X, I feel Y.”
“But I –”
“I need to know that you heard this, and I can’t talk about anything else until I know that. When you X, I feel Y. Can you just say that back to me, so I know you heard it?”
“Of course I heard it. What I want to say is –”
“No. Listen. Please. I really need to hear you say it back, so that I know for sure you get what I’m saying.”
“You don’t think I understood?”
“I just need to hear you say it back to me. When you X, I feel Y.”
“When I X, you feel Y.”
“That’s right. When you X, I feel Y.”
“Well but that’s not my fault! You’re the one who…[whatever].”
“But the fact remains that when you X, I feel Y.”
”…Well… Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
And then you can figure that part out together. But it starts with knowing that your partner actually understands what the problem is.
The other key skill, of course, is being able to say, “When I X, you feel Y” too.