“No one is naive or foolish enough to believe they will have great success in a new and demanding role for which the have had no training or practice…except, of course, marriage!” – King Ayles, Author
That is about the worst thing a person can be called…
Roberta stormed into my office, obviously angry and frustrated and ranting about her partner, Graham. Her face was flushed a deep red and she had tears threatening to wash over onto his cheeks. Her tirade went something like this.
“Who does he think he is calling me a bitch…I don’t deserve that…I am working my butt off in this relationship…and to say I am abusive…that is about the worst thing a person can be called…and especially by their spouse…and especially in front of the kids…what am I supposed to do?”
It took her a few minutes to calm herself down but she did. She told me she and her husband had been arguing over the past few days and it had escalated to the point where they got into name calling and he had even push her. This was a new level of hostility to their disagreements and it appears to have scared them both.
He was the one who pushed me…I never touched him!
I wanted to get her to focus so I asked her,
“Roberta, what is it about your current situation which bothers you the most?”
“It is him calling me abusive when he was the one who pushed me…I never touched him!” She replied self righteously.
“Roberta, I am sure you already know there are many kinds of abuse besides physical.” I said.
“Yes Ken, I realize that but I was only arguing with him…I never pushed him around.” She added.
“Roberta, have you heard the saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?”
“Well, since we each have unique life experiences and so unique value systems…you can see how we also each have our own version of other things as well…even abuse! Our laws endeavor to define abuse to protect us but it often falls on a judge to make the final determination. So, for example, physical abuse is usually easier to establish than emotional abuse…can you see that?” I asked her.
“Yes, I understand!” She replied.
“So while there are public definitions of abuse which our courts strive to enforce, there are also our own individual definitions of abuse which we have acquired from our own experience and which live in our current value system. Are you still with me?”
“So for example, some people get very upset when animals are hurt while other people do not. This is because they have had different life experiences. Some people, for example, you can comment on their appearance and they laugh it off or ignore it while others are deeply offended. This is again based on their life experiences.”
“Not just defined by our laws, but also by the person judging our behavior.”
“So where is this all going Ken?” She asked, getting impatient.
“What I am asking you to notice is abuse is also, not just defined by our laws, but also by the person judging our behavior. So there are people who may perceive they are being abused when it cannot really be established the behaviors violate our laws.”
“Are you saying abuse is defined by the person and may not actually break our current laws?” Roberta asked.
“Yes!” I replied.
“So what does that have to do with me and my partner, Ken?”
“It could be Graham perceives you as acting abusive toward him because of his value system and not because you broke one of our laws.”
“So, are you saying he could have felt just as hurt as I did when I called him a big, dumb jerk as when he pushed me?”
“Are you also saying even though what I said may not be illegal, it can still be perceived by him as just as hurtful, Ken?”
“The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it. – George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Laureate
“So, abuse, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and why he sees me as abusive?”
“Yes, Roberta, that is what I am suggesting to you…he is probably feeling just as abused as you are but from within his values not yours…and the challenge of every successful relationship is to show respect for your own values and your partner’s as well.”
“So, abuse, like beauty, is also in the eye of the beholder and that’s why he sees me as abusive?” She asked.
“What do you think?”
“Ken, it kind of makes sense you know because…I remember him telling me when he flunked grade ten because of all his ice time with the school’s hockey team, his Dad told him he would end up a big, dumb nobody…or something to that effect…and he still gets upset when he talks about it.”
“Those words, from Graham’s perspective, are probably perceived as abusive…can you understand now why he may consider you abusive for using them while you consider him abusive for pushing you? And while his form of abuse, pushing you, is usually easier to prove to others, it doesn’t deny he may equally feel abused?”
“Probably everyone, is perceived as abusive by someone, about something.”
“Yes, I’m starting to get it…it is about both our perceptions…and he apologized as soon as he pushed me…like he knew he had crossed a line…like he knew we were getting out of control!” She added.
I added, “This means, of course, anyone and probably everyone, is perceived as abusive at some time, by someone, about something. For example, it is not uncommon for children to perceive their parents’ discipline as abusive…and it may only involve a denial of internet access. And employees may view management policies or practices as abusive. So, most people can tell stories of being abused in some form by someone in the past.”
There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities.
“So, where do I go from here Ken? What am I supposed to do next?”
“Remember how I have suggested to you in the past there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities…what are you supposed to learn from this Roberta?”
“I guess we both need to learn to argue without acting abusive toward each other… would be a good start!” She offered.
“Do you think Graham would be interested in doing that?” I asked.
“I would have to ask him…but my best guess is yes…we want to make our relationship work!”
“The let’s set a tentative appointment which you can confirm if Graham is agreeable!”
“OK! Let’s do that!” Roberta replied.
Roberta and Graham went on to rebuild their relationship by learning the Three Kinds of Relationship Communication. They practiced them very consciously at first until they became more skilled in their communications with each other which stabilized their relationship and family life. Check out the Three Kinds of Communication described below.
“Convincing yourself doesn’t win an argument!” – Robert Half, Consultant
Next time we will explore other forms of abuse. In the meantime, review the Three Kinds of Relationship Communication below and start practicing “Caring Communication!”
If you have any specific questions about any mental health issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
Like beauty and kindness, abuse is defined by the perceiver.
Everyone is perceived as abusive at some time by someone.
Abuse is determined publicly by the law and privately by our value system.
Successful relationships require demonstrated respect for each other’s values.
Conflict occurs when values are, consciously or unconsciously, disrespected.
Relationships can be rebuilt if both parties are open to learning.
Resolving abuse can strengthen committed relationships.
Three Kinds of Relationship Communication
First, “Careless” communication is the best way to break down communication between two people and exaggerate yourself simultaneously. It is also called self-righteousness or euphemistically “my way or the highway.” It is like saying, “My values are right, yours are wrong, we will follow mine.” It is based on the belief one own values are better or more right than someone else’s values. It is based on disrespect and the foundation for all conflict between humans.
Second, “Careful” communication is the best way to sabotage communication between two people and demean yourself at the same time. It is called self-wrongeousness (which isn’t even a word) or its like saying, “My values are wrong and yours are right, so we will follow yours.” Euphemistically, it is called “walking on egg shells all the time trying not to break any of them.” It is based on under-respecting (minimizing) your own values and over-respecting (exaggerating) the values of the other person. It will not sustain a healthy relationship.
Third, “Caring” communication is the most effective way to enhance communication between two people. It is called caring because it demonstrates mutual respect for the values of both parties simultaneously. It is like saying, “My values are right for me and your are right for you, so I am going to put my values inside yours to encourage you to cooperate with me.” Since every relationship is “voluntary mutual manipulation,”caring communication is seducing the other person with your values while honoring their values.
Let’s use as an example a stereotypical couple, with a man who values his work, tools and sports and a woman who values her children, friends and clothes. One weekend at breakfast they are both reading the morning paper.
The woman needs sneakers for her children and notices in the morning paper a Sear’s Sale being advertised. She wants to go check it out. She has three ways she can communicate her desire to her partner:
She can CARELESSLY say, “I am going to the Sears sale, the kids need sneaker. See you later!
She can CAREFULLY say, “Honey, if it doesn’t interfere with your day, do you mind if I go to Sears, I will only be an hour, the kids needs sneakers?”
She can CARINGLY say, “Honey, there is a big sale at Sears, 50% off including the shoe department and the tool department. The kids needs some sneakers. Do you want to go check it out?”
Now, if the man noticed the Sear’s Sale in the paper, it can say something like this:
He can CARELESSLY say, “I am going to the Sear’s sale, I need a drill bit. See you later! “
He can CAREFULLY say,”Honey, if it doesn’t inconvenience you, do you mind if I go to Sears to pick up a drill bit. I won’t be long.”
Or he can CARINGLY say, “Honey, there is a big sale at Sears, 50% off, including the tool department and the shoe department. You mentioned the kids need shoes and I need a drill bit. Do you want to check it out?”
What makes us human, reminds us of our power and demonstrates respect is our ability to consider options and make conscious choices. Using caring communication is the only way to get others to cooperate with us. They only cooperate because they feel respected and valued. They don’t have to cooperate, but are strongly encouraged to, because they feel genuine caring, because of how you communicate with them.
PRACTICE CARING COMMUNICATION AND NOTICE WHAT HAPPENS