No one wants to “walk on eggshells,” in their marriage or in any relationship for that matter. Life is too short and too fragile to live with any ongoing contention.
Scripture is replete with admonition on the matter: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
Nothing could be clearer: we are designed to live in peace. We are instructed to live in peace with others. We are to do everything possible to live harmoniously with others in our world.
What, then are we to do when that doesn’t seem possible, as appears to be the case with the woman who wrote the following:
Dear Dr. David.
My husband accuses me of constantly pushing his buttons! He calls it defiance! I don’t mean it at all! What can I do to help him realize I am not meaning to irritate him?
In this note the woman shares that her husband accuses her of “pushing his buttons.” While we may at first be sympathetic to his concerns, let’s look a little closer.
His accusation, in and of itself, is provocative and accusatory. Using language such as
“pushing my buttons” is not gentle or specific and would be considered by some to even be “violent” communication. While he is certainly in distress, his language for impacting change needs much massaging.
How might he communicate his needs more effectively so his wife has a better chance of meeting his needs? Here are some practical steps for all of us to follow:
First, make complaints specific. In order for us to fully understand the needs and concerns of others, their complaints must be specific, even measurable. In other words, a complaint of “You don’t love me” or “You don’t care about me” is not nearly as helpful as “You haven’t kept your promise to take me out on a date once per week.” So, when making a complaint, make it specific. When receiving a criticism, ask for specific examples, free from judgment or general speculation.
Second, share specific complaints gently. It is so much easier to hear a complaint that is shared in love and with gentleness. Sharing information with a mate out of a heart of compassion is typically received much more readily. A gentle, soft delivery will often be met with an open, receptive heart.
Third, share feelings associated with the complaint. We respond much more effectively when feelings are shared. The gentlemen who felt that his wife was intentionally “pushing his buttons” might instead say, “I feel threatened when you (name specific behavior).”
Fourth, make specific, positive requests. A specific complaint, layered with feelings can be effectively followed with a specific, positive request. Again, the gentleman above might say, “It would mean the world to me if you would share your concerns with me one at a time. I feel overwhelmed when you share more than one issue at a time. I want to collect my thoughts and respond to you.” Requests that are specific, layered with feelings, are much easier to understand and caringly respond to.
Finally, respond to the specific request. Finally, after asking for specific feedback, make a generous and specific response. Seek to meet the need that was mentioned. Even if your mate struggles to follow this recipe, encourage them to try and then seek to meet the need that has been shared.
In summary, receiving and offering criticism is not easy to do. However, every relationship will have struggles at times and issues that must be addressed. Use the above recipe for dealing with them and let us know how this worked for you. We at The Marriage Recovery Center are prepared to walk with you through any challenges. Please feel free to contact me at MarriageRecoveryCenter.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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