If your wife is nagging you, she probably has something to tell you and you're not listening, so she's going to keep on telling you until you do. Don't feel bad about the listening part; I'll bet that you're not listening because she's not approaching you the right way. Sometimes, all that's required is a little tinkering with the communication process, and you'll find yourself in the honeymoon phase all over again.
The Wrong Way
One night, a man arrives home late from work, only to find his wife waiting for him at the entrance. Before he even has a chance to take his coat off, he's greeted with:
Giovanna: You're really crude. Why are you coming home so late? You're avoiding me again; you must be getting sick of talking to me.Angelo: Don't raise your voice at me. There you go again, always complaining and jumping to conclusions.
Giovanna: Why are you acting like a brute? All I wanted to know is why you can't call to warn me ahead of time that you'll be missing dinner? You're such a hardheaded man.
Angelo: (Walks away) Oh leave me alone. I'm tired and I want to get some rest.
Giovanna: You are acting like such a child. Sure, that's right! Just walk out of the room! You know what your problem is? You can't take constructive criticism!
What Went Wrong?
What the wife should have said was, "You can't take destructive criticism," because that's exactly what it was. Instead of communicating what she really felt (specific) in an objective way, she expressed hostility in an obscure (abstract) manner that led to her husband's defensive behavior.
Once the husband goes into defensive mode, the channel of communication breaks down, preventing the couple from resolving the situation. So what happens? Giovanna keeps repeating the same old message and Angelo keeps thinking his wife is a nag. But what's really happening is that no one is really paying attention.
Frame our mind
Before speaking, you have to be in the right frame of mind. The first thing that both Giovanna and Angelo must do is realize that there is a communication problem. Once they reach this realization, they'll have to get all the unresolved issues out of the way using the technique that I will describe below. Then, when everything is resolved, they can start from a clean slate using the correct communication system.
It's not you, it's me
When you want to solve a problem, knowing how to clearly express yourself in a direct way makes it easier for others to understand you and to keep the lines of communication open.
In order to get Angelo's attention, Giovanna's first goal should be to prevent Angelo from becoming defensive rather than jumping down his throat. The only way to achieve this is by using the language of responsibility. This means that instead of using "You" all the time, Giovanna should have used "I."
Let's look at a few "You" examples from the first conversation that caused Angelo to shut down communication with Giovanna and led him to walk away:
- You're really crude.
- Why are you being such a brute?
- You are acting like such a child.
It's easy to see why the "You" language provokes defensiveness. As soon as Giovanna utilizes it, she instantly puts Angelo on the defensive -- exactly what she needs to avoid if she wants him to listen.
A "You" statement implies that Giovanna is qualified to judge Angelo -- a position that Angelo is unwilling to accept. Fortunately, there's a better way for Giovanna to express her message. The "I" language will describe Giovanna's reaction to Angelo's behavior, without passing judgment.
Curt's "I" system
Why is the "I" language so effective? Because it has several benefits for both the sender and the recipient of the message: It reduces defensiveness, increases honesty and clears the information put forth. All these factors will help contribute to both Angelo's and Giovanna's openness and understanding of what's being said.
So, without any further delay, let's look at the "I" System and how it will help you have a normal conversation with your wife, without ever having to fight again. The complete "I" System has four parts. It describes your behavior, her interpretation of that behavior, her feelings, and the consequences your behavior has on her.
Here's what Giovanna should have told Angelo in order for him to continue listening:
Giovanna: Angelo, you've been coming home late all week now without calling me once [Behavior]. Is it because you are trying to avoid me? Are you getting fed up of my company or are you seeing someone else [Interpretation]? I'm starting to feel unappreciated and undesired. I'm really hurting inside [Feeling]. If this continues, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown worrying about you [Consequence].
Angelo: Oh baby, I'm so sorry. I never thought that you felt this way. I'm not avoiding you. I do appreciate you. And no, I'm not seeing anyone else, baby. I've been so bogged down at work lately that I've had to stay longer hours and the stress is really getting to me. When I get home, I'm just so tired that I need a few moments to myself. I don't want you to feel this way, and I promise that I'll call you from now on every time that I have to stay at work a little late.
The right time
As you can see from the example above, the message was clearly communicated by both Giovanna and Angelo, and the problem was resolved. But communicating the right words is not the only requirement.
Sometimes, even the best "I" statements won't work unless they're delivered in the right way, in the right tone of voice and at the right time. The best way to make sure that everyone is listening to each other is by waiting a few moments before speaking.
So, for example, if you come home really tired and your wife wants to talk, remind yourself before speaking that your goal is to explain how her behavior affects you -- not to act like a judge -- and kindly say, "Honey I just had a really long and hard day, can you give me an hour to wind down and relax? I promise we'll talk afterward." Hopefully, your wife will understand and you'll keep your promise.
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