By Jeremy Rochford
One of the most common scenarios I experience in my coaching practice plays out like this.
Husband: Jeremy, I don't understand. There I was, minding my own business when my wife suddenly came out of nowhere and started dumping upon me with ALL the things I've ever done wrong in our marriage. And then, rather than staying around to talk about it, she leaves. Just up and goes. All the while, I'm left here to feel like garbage without a way of defending myself. What am I supposed to do with that?
Jeremy- Well- how does that make you feel?
Husband: Deeply hurt and confused.
Jeremy-Do you take it personally?
Husband: Yeah, how can you not?
So glad you asked because that's what we're going to talk about today. How to receive feedback on our behaviors in a way that separates the facts from the feelings so we can work through them in a way that allows us to bring them back together to strengthen our marriage and sense of well-being.
A tall order, you say?
I get it. But how many times have you sat back and said something to the extent of “Dayng it! Why does my spouse have to be so cryptic and confusing? If they'd just tell me what I'm doing wrong, I could fix it, and we can finally move on and have a happy marriage.” Well- what do you think they're doing when they "Unload" on you? The challenge, as I see it, is that quite often, when answers to the question of "What am I doing wrong, please just tell me” present themselves, they often come at a time, and in a way, we're not ready to receive them. So, we get defensive, and in an act of self-preservation, we then seek to justify our actions or behaviors.
But there is a better way.
It starts with this mentality.
“Dumped Out- Not Dumped On.”
The next time you feel like you're getting read the riot act of all you've ever done wrong, rather than taking the stance of this being a personal attack where all your transgressions are being “Dumped On” you. I’d encourage you to imagine sitting at a table, and all the issues that have caused strife in your marriage are finally being “Dumped Out” onto a table for you to look through and analyze.
Because if you take this stance, you finally have the answer to the question, "What in the world is she thinking?"
Now, you finally know.
And you have the opportunity to analyze the data to see what you agree with and to assess if those behaviors are intentional or simply a misunderstanding.
This is where the curiosity component comes in.
Sarcasm nearly destroyed my marriage. My parents were sarcastic. My hockey friends were sarcastic. And, before I lost 200 pounds, the typical "fat kid" thing to do was to make fun of yourself sarcastically. Just about every communication in my life was rooted in sarcasm. So, when my wife entered the picture, I assumed she would also love sarcasm.
Turns out no bueno.
She HATED sarcasm. To her, it came across as mean, vindictive, and abusive.
Which was NEVER my intent.
But, also, I had never been challenged to think a different way about it.
Could I have sat back and held onto my belief that my sarcasm was fantastic and that SHE needed change?
Sure. I could have.
Or, I could look at it in this way.
Why was I being sarcastic in the first place?
For me, sarcasm was a way to connect with my mother. Try to impress and fit in with my hockey friends. Seem funny in front of girls. And protect myself from feeling made fun of due to my weight.
What was actually happening, though? Well, my mom wasn't around when I was having intimate conversations with my wife. Neither were my hockey friends. My wife was the only girl I wanted to be funny in front of, and sarcasm was doing the opposite. And I had lost 200 pounds by the time we married, which meant no one was making fun of me.
In short, when I thought about it, my sarcasm was doing NOTHING but hurting me. So, if that's the case, why continue it? Or at least continue around her?
There was no good reason.
So, I stopped.
Am I still sarcastic with my hockey friends? Sometimes, because there's a time and a place for that. However, when my wife is involved, that is not the time. And that is not the place.
But I came to this conclusion only after I realized how powerful getting curious about my behaviors was and how emotionally grounding the “Dumped Out- Not Dumped On” approach is.
If you're struggling in your relationship with the things we discussed in this post, I will HIGHLY encourage you to get curious about the “Dumped Out- Not Dumped On” approach to conflict resolution.
Not only has it saved my marriage, but it’s improved the marriages (through communication and empathy) of many of the couples I’ve worked with.
But it all starts with getting curious.
That's why I joke that curiosity killed the cat, but it saved my marriage.
I'd love to know your thoughts, though. Is this something you're struggling with? Either feeling "Dumped On" or practicing curiosity? Leave me a message in the comments or shoot me an email at Jeremy@OurNeuroFam.com.