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Every act of overt muscling by one partner leads to 2 equally powerful acts of covert defiance by other! Don’t mistake submission for devotion, or obedience for love.
Q: Have I engaged in any acts of covert defiance? • Withdrawing or Avoiding (includes: garage, kids, work, school, alcohol, etc.). • Stonewalling (includes: silent treatment, refusing to talk). • Withholding affection, attention, tenderness, appreciation, sex. • Making excuses for why I didn’t follow-through . . . again. • Making and breaking promises and agreements. • Procrastinating. • Chronic “forgetting”: “Oops. . . You know how my memory is.” • Chronic lateness. • Chronic apologies without subsequent changes in behavior. • Flaunting my affection for others in front of my partner. • Lying or hiding truth. • Bad-mouthing my partner to our children, friends, family. • Developing a social network that excludes my partner.
Q: What could I have done that would have been more helpful, more considerate, more kind?
Q: What vulnerable feelings were beneath my anger or defensiveness? (Examples: fear, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, hurt).
Q: What vulnerable feelings might have been beneath my partner’s behavior?
After you’ve answered these questions and have a better understanding of what went wrong and what part you played, you’re ready for last step: Peace Offering.
4. PEACE OFFERING. Assuming you’ve done all 3 previous steps, you should be ready to come back together and talk. Each of you should take a turn sharing what you learned about yourself from your time away. This means owning your part, apologizing to your partner for hurt you may have caused, and making a peace offering. A peace offering can be as simple as a hug or a kiss, or it can be a promise or an agreement to do something different. When both of you have completed this step, chances are you’ll be feeling lots better.
Here’s an example of how this step might sound:
“At first, all I could see was what you did to make me mad–but when I went through lists and saw: blaming, forgetting, and excusing–I realized that I played a part in what went wrong. I think I was attacking you because I was feeling guilty myself for forgetting to do X. Sorry. I know I let you down. Next time I can try to be more honest sooner, or I can at least stop blaming you before you’ve even had a chance to talk. I promise to do X by Friday.”
Sounds good, huh? You can do it, too. Practice STOP strategy over and over until steps are automatic. It takes lots of repetition, so hang in there! When you’ve got it down, try teaching it to your kids. If they’re too young to understand it, use strategy in front of them. They’ll learn by example how to communicate lovingly and respectfully.
Good Luck! © Copyright 2004 by Betsy Sansby, MS, LMFT
Betsy Sansby is a licensed marriage & family therapist in Minneapolis. She has just produced a communication tool for couples called: The OuchKit--Marriage Counseling in a Box: www.theouchkit.com.