Some of my worst days tend to center around feeling frustrated. The more I think about that frustration, the more I realize it typically has to do with disappointment; whether its disappointment in myself, someone else, or something. I think I get disappointed a lot and maybe it's because my expectations are too high... for myself and others. I had to look up a definition. Dictionary.com states disappointment is " depressed or discouraged by the failure of one's hopes or expectations." Well, at least I articulated that correctly. Now, the hard part of figuring out how to deal with it. I think it's hard to vent disappointments with yourself, and especially with others! But what is so hard about it?
Communication. Why does everything always have to go back to how we communicate? You'd think centering life around getting good at one thing like communicating would be easy... but no. Communicating to work through something like disappointment entails processing with someone else through an issue and diffusing the hurt. This does not sound easy. I know I stray from doing it because I don't want to lose control, I don't want to hurt the other person, I don't want to get hurt myself, I don't want the other person to take me the wrong way and get mad, and maybe I don't feel safe enough emotionally to confront the person. Sadly, this creates barriers in the communication. We find ourselves not communicating about a lot more things than just the situation that disappointed us in the first place. Lysa TerKeurst, my now good friend (in purely "I love reading her books and she speaks to me through them and that's why she's my friend" kind of way) in Unglued stated,
"Barriers shut down communication. When you determine people aren't safe, you label them with words such as demanding, irresponsible, volitile, selfish, and defensive. No matter what they do or don't do, this barrier label is the filter through which you process EVERYTHING about them... the other person is unaware so everything confuses them" (italics mine, 84).
I have learned that facing the conflict is the only way to go. Bust down the barriers with your friends and family and start working on building an open and honest relationship that fosters feeling emotionally safe to share with one another. I've learned the best way to do this is by doing a little preperation, not just winging a conversation. Let me offer a few suggestions.
1. Begin by thinking about what your expectations are. What are your expectations of the other person? What are your expectations of yourself in the relationship? What are your expectations of what the relationship should look like and how your roles are determined? Sometimes thinking about what you want out of the relationship or situation helps to bring expectations to light.
2. Are your expectations realistic or unrealistic? If you are anything like me, you might be really good at convincing yourself they are all realistic, so it might not be a bad idea to bounce them off of someone you trust to get their opinion.
3. Identify how you are feeling. This is going to help you express yourself better if you figure this out before you have the conversation. Your feelings are real, but they might not be valid. Feelings are NOT facts so allow the other person to have a say in what they MEANT to make you feel like, but you may have interpreted incorrectly.
4. Identify what you want. Hopefully, this is the part where solutions come into play. Maybe expressing expectations to the other person is what needs to be done or just expressing how something they did made you feel. Try to be open to them about what you want and be open to their suggestions as well.
5. Take into consideration that it might not work out. Some people we just weren't meant to have deeper relationships with even though we keep beating our heads against a wall to make it happen. Give yourself a break. Sometimes relationships just need a break too. (Now, if its a committed relationship, this is when backup needs to be called in. I'm definitely an advocate for marriage so don't take this the wrong way. I'm more meaning friendships and not commited, licensed signed type relationships)
Break down the barriers, and start creating healthy boundaries instead. Boundaries equal honest transperency while barriers equal walls built without honesty and are rather created because of fear and lack of hard work... oh Lysa T. how your words resound with me.
"You don't understand what I'm saying!!" "You never get it..." "I understand, but you still don't see what I'm saying."
How often do you find yourself using any of these statements? I used to use them ALL. THE. TIME. My husband and I have been married for almost 7 years now, known each other for 10, and we used to have pretty ridiculous arguments that included these and other statements. A college friend of mine used to ask me if I could ever see myself dating him and I would always respond with "No, because we just fight all the time!" (Clearly, that wasn't true because we're married, ha). We were stuck in a classic, "see what I'm saying, then I'll try and understand what you're saying" cycle. I was always trying to PROVE my view of how what I was saying or doing as okay, versus trying to IMPROVE the relationship and seeing his perspective.
One afternoon, I finally realized it was time to change. We were hanging out in my apartment and decided to start having a discussion... sadly I don't even remember what it was about (but that's how that usually goes, right?) but I do remember it escalated quickly. I had to leave the room due to getting so frustrated because I didn't feel like he was really listening to me. I was a classic, storm out and shut down kind of arguer with him. This is definitely where my unglued moment of being a stuffer, collecting rocks for later use, came into play. It didn't take long for that "rock" to fly. He came out after me and made some comment that made me so mad, I chucked the TV remote at him. Thankfully, he ducked, but that remote hit the wall and shattered into itty bitty pieces. We both stopped, shocked at how it crumbled to pieces, and kind of chuckled at how badly we had let a dumb conversation get out of control.
I learned in grad school that time outs are not a bad thing. I always tried to keep talking the problem out in a way of, "lock yourself in a room and don't come out till it's solved" kind of way. This was not effective for me or our relationship. I stopped thinking straight once I escalated and got frustrated. Taking a time out helped slow my emotions down and clear my head. When you continue a discussion at this escalated state, things will take a turn for the worse. You will say things you don't mean and will probably regret later. The focus at this point will be on PROVING yourself, not IMPOVING the relationship. We should always be striving to impove our relationships because we get more satisfaction out of them that way and both parties walk away from the discussion satisfied because they feel valued, heard, and safe to share how they really feel the next time a discussion is had. My husband and I began implementing time-outs. I am happy to say that we don't need to use time outs much anymore because we got into the habit of striving to see the other persons point of view when having a discussion and are quick to realize our talks are getting out of control when we aren't feeling heard or valued.
Here is the key to effective time-outs:
1. Decide on a time-out length with your significant other (when you are NOT arguing) - anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes.
2. Someone call the time out during the argument.
3. Whoever called the time out, set the timer for the discussed length of time.
4. Come back together to continue the discussion after the time has expired.
5. If you escalate and are going nowhere again, take another time out.
6. Continue repeating these steps until the discussion has reached a conclusion.
Give it a whirl and let me know how it works out for you!
Rachael Kool, professional counselor and normal, everyday adult screw up