After I hung up, still seething with blame (both towards myself and him), I went over things in my head, as
women we tend to do when things go awry.
Being forty, and fairly clear-headed (I think) when it comes to my shortcomings, I could go back over the conversation and how it had played out, and see where I had said things that were inflammatory. I could also see a pattern in my dealings with other partners which had led to conversations that were all depressingly similar in their outcome: painful discussions with no resolution. What I couldn't see was this: How on earth do you re-wire your brain so that you don't fall into old, bad patterns during important discussions/negotiations?
A friend of mine recently founded a company based on this very question. His website says:
"Professionals are using live simulations as a regular part of their training programs, as often the most unpredictable element is the human one. How these professionals assess the situation and react can mean the difference between life and death. What is at stake in your business?"
Good point. and what's at stake in our personal relationships if we can't get beyond the traps that lurk when we try to have emotional conversations? Think about all the things we find it so hard not to say (and by 'we' I mean me) when we're upset:
I hate it when...
I'm sorry that I...
(a really passive-aggressive one that, and one I'm guilty of using: apologizing for a shortcoming instead of getting to the point, which is that I'm angry/I need something.)
The more we use certain phrases, the more we trigger an antagonistic response in the other person; the more defensive/angry/upset they get, the more defensive/angry/upset WE get, and on and on until it's impossible to say anything sensible.
I've decided that it's time to learn how to defuse my irritation and anger, but how? Simulations, like the ones my friend offers, are a great idea, but I find that the one-person version of this (having imaginary conversations in your head with the other party) are frustrating, and have the effect of making my tension level rise significantly since there's no one else to mediate or offer an outside opinion. One good solution, offered here, is to
"...defuse the energy of anger.”
Go for a run, focus on your artwork or finish a DIY project, he said. “Break something that needs to be broken.” As he said, the most amazing works, including music, poetry and art, have been created from anger.
It's true. Yesterday (the day after the unsatisfactory conversation) I could have moped around all day feeling frustrated and upset. Instead I tried to do something productive. I ended up writing two songs: one which focused on the darker side of love (thanks to Noel Coward, who wrote an amazing poem on the subject, which I've quoted from before) and a romantic song for my guy. I exorcized some demons in a creative way and had some tangible results to show for it.
So what will I do the next time an issue comes up and I need to have "the talk" with someone I'm close to? I don't have all the answers- hell, I don't have many of them. Things I will try:
- deep breathing
- articulating EXACTLY what it is I need to myself, before I even think about talking to the other person
- finding the balance between blurting things out when I'm overwrought and "sleeping on it" (where the danger can be that I end up stewing over things and making mountains out of molehills)
- defusing my frustrations by reprogramming my brain: exercising, writing, music...whatever it takes.
So what happened next, after the phone conversation? Well, while I was still fretting, I heard my phone buzzing. Looking down I realized that I had mail from my guy, who sent me a sweet and sexy message which soothed me into sleep. True to our genders, he moves on while I fret and over-analyze. We've chosen to leave that conversation in the past... for now. And at least I have the perfect original romantic song to send him tomorrow- just in time for Valentine's Day.