When I was in my 20s, I thought I knew how to bring up tough conversations with a guy.
I used a version of the “sandwich” technique.
Start off with something positive, bring up the issue, then suggest a solution. Finish off with a positive vision of how much better our relationship will be as a result of this change.
I really thought it couldn’t go wrong.
Except it did.
No matter how careful I was, my partner reacted defensively. What he heard was me telling him he was doing something wrong.
I felt so discouraged and frustrated. I was following the rules. Why wasn’t it working??
It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I came across the technique I use now.
I wish I’d known this 20 years ago!
This “magic phrase” works because it addresses head-on the most common reason for conflict in a relationship:
Problem + Misunderstanding = Huge Conflict
When issues arise, we assume that we have good reason to be upset at our guy.
Something happened, it wasn’t okay, and now we have to call him out on it so that it doesn’t happen again.
But the reason we’re upset goes well beyond what happened.
We’re upset because of what we made it mean.
We tell ourselves that his actions mean that he doesn’t value the relationship, he doesn’t consider our feelings, he’s selfish and inconsiderate, etc, etc.
We make all sorts of assumptions about what was or wasn’t going on in his head. That’s what gets us worked up.
But the story you’re telling yourself about what happened is not the story your guy is telling himself about what happened.
For him, it was a forgivable mistake, a one-time error, a lack of clarity about your expectations, etc, etc.
He gets defensive because of what you’ve made the incident mean about him.
Use This Magic Phrase in Conflict
There’s a way out of this mess!
Just use the phrase:
The story I’m telling myself is…”
(I stole this from the amazing Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong.)
Explain what happened as neutrally as possible, then explain what you’ve made it mean inside your head.
Invite him to correct you. This is just the story you’re telling yourself. You don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling. Only he knows that.
One of the most important things you can do for your relationship is go to your guy any time you’re tempted to guess what he’s thinking or feeling and ask him directly.
Don’t assume. Wait for his words out of his mouth.
You Can’t Read His Mind
We aren’t mind readers, no matter how good we think we are at it.
We don’t know his motivation or intentions better than he does.
I fully understand that there are women who won’t agree with me.
They believe that they know their guy better than he knows himself. They believe that asking him what’s going on in his head won’t get anywhere, because he won’t tell them.
And so they end up with a certain kind of relationship. A relationship where they “mother” and manage their man.
As for me, I think we women have better things to do than manage a man.
Our job is to be honest with ourselves about the assumptions we’re making, then share that honest truth with him.
If he doesn’t want to accept that invitation, that’s on him.
If He Refuses?
It takes time to get used to checking your assumptions.
It doesn’t necessarily feel natural to share the story you’ve made up about what something means.
It sounds awkward when you start using this phrase. You’ll have to explain to him what you’re trying to do.
So give him time, too.
He may find it weird at first. He’ll get used to it.
Over time, he may find himself checking his assumptions, just like you do.
One of the best ways to create change in your relationship is to model the behavior you’d like to see.
If you don’t want him jumping to conclusions, then you need to start catching yourself every time you jump to conclusions.
Jumping to conclusions creates drama rather than connection…
And connection is what keeps you together forever.