In a relationship, arguments are normal. The goal, however, should be to finish the argument and solve your problems. Using “global” statements that describe a problem with a person’s character (as opposed to actions) undermine resolution.
Picture: Jon Collier/Flickr
As The Art of Manliness explains, by focusing your complaint on a person’s character, rather than their actions, not only do you cause your partner to become defensive, you undermine any potential solution. “You’re so messy!” is easy to dismiss as “Well, yeah. I’ve been like this our entire relationship.” Whereas “Would you kindly do the dishes more often?” is a tangible way to improve. By focusing on specific acts rather than huge character flaws, you highlight the path to improvement:
Global labels can feel highly satisfying to hurl at someone when you’re angry and can seem completely justifiable at the time. In writing the person off as incorrigible, you also essentially absolve yourself of any responsibility for your issues as a couple: “We wouldn’t have this problem if you weren’t so selfish.”
But blanket condemnations of your partner’s character are anathema to a loving relationship. They will make her feel hurt and defensive, greatly hindering any chance of communication. Global labels also make your partner feel helpless — if the problem is rooted in their very identity/personality, changing will seem impossible to them. They’re liable to answer: “I’m sorry, but this is the way I am!” Thus, in using global labels you wash your hands of any responsibility for the problem, while at the same time, your partner will feel unable and unwilling to do anything about it either…not a recipe for effective conflict resolution!
The key is identifying specific actions you have a quarrel with, rather than an innate personal problem. One has to assume if you’re in a relationship with someone, you accept their personality. Specific actions can be an area of compromise, without a ton of hurt feelings. Check out The Art of Manliness’ post for more ways to communicate more effectively with your partner.
The 10 Commandments of Clean Communication [The Art of Manliness]