Are you talking down to your spouse?

Do you talk down to your spouse and then become surprised when they snap at you or give you the silent treatment?

Years ago, I was working in a traditional finance job at a venture capital firm and we were lucky enough to have a seasoned executive teach a workshop on communication. He was a straight-shooter, and the methodology he shared with our firm that day was remarkably simple, but also remarkably powerful.

He explained that, in any conversation, the person initiating speaks in one of three roles: parent, peer, or child. The respondent can either confirm the framework that was initiated or change it with their response.  Let’s take a typical example:

Mom: “Your room is a pigsty. I don’t understand how you can live in such filth.”

Child: “How I keep my room is none of your business…now get out of here.”

The parent speaks first and establishes what she thinks the roles in the ensuing conversation will be. In this example, the child, lacking any communication finesse, confirms the dynamic by responding like a child.

Let’s take another look at the same conversation and explore how it might go differently if the people involved have better communications skills.

Mom: “Your room is a pigsty. I don’t understand how you can live in such filth.”

Child: “Mom, I’m so sorry that I haven’t been able to get to my room this week. I can hear that it’s a stressor for you and I hope you know that I haven’t been ignoring this on purpose. I’ve been totally overwhelmed with schoolwork, my extra-curriculars, and a few friends that are going through some really tough times. Is it okay if I get to my room over the weekend?”

Here, the parent speaks first and tries to establish the roles (I’m the parent; you’re the child), but the child responds with honesty and understanding, using their language to ask that the conversation be between equals.

Are you communicating effectively in your relationship?

People don’t rise to the level of a challenge, they fall to the level of their training.                              – Military Proverb

Take some time to reflect on how you view your spouse (as a peer/equal or maybe as a child) and how you find yourself speaking to them, especially when you’re frustrated. Chances are, the more you’re able to talk TO them and not DOWN TO them, the more they will respond to you in the same way.

But as we all know, communication is never easy, particularly not when you’re feeling overwhelmed and triggered. This is why it makes such good sense to work with an objective therapist or coach who can introduce you to new and effective tools, and help you master them so that when things are particularly difficult, you will have the confidence and experience to be your best. If you’d like help in this area, please contact the Client Care Team and they can help match you with the best counseling to suit your needs.