“There are two sides to every argument, until you take one.” ~Unknown
The phone rang. My partner and our daughter were away hiking and camping. I’d wanted to go with them, but my partner had discouraged me.
My partner had a last-minute change of heart, but I’d remained firm. They hadn’t welcomed me, I said, so they could do without me.
Now, after a day of hiking, our daughter phoned me. They wanted me to join them for dinner and then join them for the second day of the hike.
How do you deal with feelings of disappointment, frustration, or resentment? How do you deal with differences, apart from arguing or sulking? How do you restore the spirit of love?
We often feel embarrassed to share our unpleasant feelings. But we all have them. We’re all human.
So what did I do, and what did I learn to do? It helps to understand why I’d wanted to go, and why I was so upset.
We’ve traveled to many places as a family. I love the aura of mutual support and love that flourishes during our travels.
It’s us against the challenges of the world. Each of us gets something done so that all of us can enjoy the trip more.
For example, when we drove into the center of Melbourne at night, trying to find our hotel, one of our daughters was waiting on the sidewalk to flag us down. When we arrived one night in Matanzas, Cuba, by bus, she surprised us by appearing at the bus stop to take us to a specially prepared dinner.
Such considerate efforts and little joys tend to nurture the spirit of love. So I look forward to our family adventures, even if it’s only a brief local outing.
Now I was facing an unexpected situation. I was being discouraged from hiking with them. They said that my leisurely pace would slow them down.
“Hardly the point,” I said. “It’s a family outing.”
But they remained keen on walking as quickly as they could. I didn’t really fancy walking on my own.
I felt rejected, but also angry at being rejected. I hadn’t sulked for some years, but I thought that I was now entitled to a big dose of sulking.
Eventually, I tried to identify my unpleasant feelings. Finally, I found the exact word I was looking for: “ostracized.” That’s how I felt, I decided.
People with disfigurements are sometimes ostracized. People with facial burns, or skin diseases, or congenital malformations, all face ostracism.
I had no disfigurement. I merely tended to walk more slowly than they did. But I felt ostracized by my own partner.
On the night before they left, I finally blurted it out to my partner: “I felt ostracized by the way you put things.”
Back came the response, promptly: “I’m sorry for that. That’s not what I intended.”
A little while later, this was followed by, “Please will you come with us?”
That illustrates the power of simply stating your feelings. That’s the first lesson I learned.
Unfortunately, my mind was stubbornly set. “I don’t waste my time where I’m not welcome,” I said. How delicious it is to be stubborn, and how self-defeating!
They were off before I woke up in the morning. I decided to tackle the many tasks awaiting my attention.
I embarked on a major project which had long been postponed. It was so absorbing and enjoyable that the hours flew by. Then the evening came, with the surprise phone call from my daughter.
Would I drive over to join them for dinner? Would I join them for the rest of the hike? “No,” I said.
But our daughter doesn’t give up easily. She kept talking, telling me about their day, describing where they were going for dinner, and said she’d phone again with directions. A few minutes later, she called again and gave me detailed directions, telling me at what time they expected to arrive at the restaurant.
“It would be great if you joined us,” she said. The gentle tone of that suggestion lent it power. There was no lecturing, no “you should have,” no “you should,” no judgment.
She hadn’t been at fault in this whole episode, I thought. So why punish her? I got changed and drove off.
It turned out to be a charming restaurant, with delicious food. As we chatted, I forgot to stay resentful.
By the end of the meal, my wish to punish anyone had evaporated. Still, my newly started project at home was far too engrossing. So I decided not to join them for the second day of the hike.
The next evening, they returned, exhausted and sore from the very long hike. I was almost grateful to have been spared the blisters. I cooked them a nice dinner, to help build on the aura of collaboration and closeness.
This episode reminded me of four powerful sentences that I’d once been advised to use. These sentences can help transform any argument into a conversation and collaboration. From now on, I hope I remember to use them in difficult situations.
Here they are:
- “There’s some truth in what you’re saying.”
- “I feel [like this] when you [say or do] that.”
- “It seems as if you’re upset; tell me more about how you feel.”
- “It would be good if [this happened].”
When expectations differ, these sentences enable mutual respect, kindness, and win-win solutions.
You can insert your own appropriate words or phrases into the brackets.
For example, here’s what I might have said to my partner:
“There’s some truth in what you’re saying. I do tend to walk more slowly than you.”
“But I feel ostracized when you say you want to go without me.”
If my partner had seemed upset, I’d say: “It seems as if you’re upset. Tell me more about how you feel.”
If I had a suggestion I’d say: “It would be good if we went together and did one day at my pace, then one day at yours.”
These four sentences, appropriately modified, can be used by anyone. They can be used at home, at work, or in any difficult situation. They can be used together, or separately, as the situation requires.
Unhelpful feelings often lead to self-defeating arguments or brooding resentment. Before a situation deteriorates, try using your own version of these four sentences. Use them and be prepared for argument and resentment to turn into collaborative problem-solving.
Don’t omit listening to the other person. Also, be prepared graciously to accept good suggestions they may make.
These sentences are simple, but powerful. They help solve problems while restoring the spirit of love. And love heals.
About Joel Almeida
Joel Almeida, Ph.D., is on a mission to help busy, successful people live with more calm, energy and brain-power: through science-based tips. These tips also help you reduce your risk of eventual dementia. Get a free report which reveals the powerful device that can make you calmer within minutes (hint: you have this device already).
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