One of my very favorite parenting books is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I bet I’ve read that book five times.
One of that book’s most important lessons is simple, and it applies to adults just as much as to children: acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings. Don’t deny feelings like anger, irritation, fear, or reluctance; instead, articulate the other person’s point of view. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
I knew I did this with my children, saying things like “You’re not hungry,” “Clowns aren’t scary,” and “You always have fun at camp.” But once I started thinking about it, I realized that I did it with adults, too – especially my husband; and adults do the same to me – especially my husband.
For example, recently I undertook a MAJOR household project. Which, I admit, I did with about zero grace – but I did do it. My husband was all too aware of my simmering resentment. At one point, he looked around and said, “Well, this job doesn’t look too tough.” Wrong move! He likely thought he was being encouraging. Instead, he enraged me. It would have been better to have acknowledged my feelings, by saying something like, “Wow, this looks like a huge job, it’s great that you’re doing this.” Plus it never hurts to give me some gold stars.
I’ve found, too, that when other people deny or ignore my feelings, I tend to keep repeating myself (i.e., whining), because I don’t feel heard. Even if I don’t particularly feel like talking about the annoying problem with our elevator, until I get my “Wow, that must have been a drag” from my husband, I can’t let it go.
Now I’m trying to do a better job, myself. I stop myself when I start saying things like, “That trip won’t be too much of a pain,” or “It will only take you five minutes to get this figured out.” I do better when I acknowledge my husband’s feelings, instead of arguing against them. Also, it’s an approach that makes me feel understanding, instead of argumentative, and that’s nicer too.
The days are long, but the years are short.