She was hurt and sent a ragging email. He felt helpless and wanted to retreat. Instead, he called me and I coached him to try something new. The results were different from the usual escalation they experience. He risked new behavior; she responded with love. His report of “best conversation ever” brought tears to my eyes.
What was the magic? It sounds simple, yet requires courage, vulnerability and a commitment to enhance the relationship. First, he stopped his emotional reaction. Instead, he chose to be curious about his partner’s provoking rage. Second, he asked her what she was thinking and what she had hoped to accomplish. The question was an honest one, not blame disguised as curiosity.
Third, he listened to her response, which was still tinged with anger and accusation. Here was the tough and critical choice point. He chose what was best for the relationship rather than allow himself to engage on the level of her accusation. He stayed in curious mode rather than react.
In addition, he heard her pain disguised as anger and acknowledged it. When we first talked, we had spent a lot of time unraveling his story. It became apparent to me that his partner’s behavior was hurt disguised as rage. When I confronted him, he listened and reflected. This man is courageous and determined to become a better man and partner. He was willing to acknowledge that his earlier response had probably wounded and inflamed the woman he loves. He reexamined his part in the drama and took responsibility for his own inability to meet her at the level of intimacy she had offered. His acknowledgement made space for him to step back and remain curious rather than react emotionally from his own hurt place.
We had practiced the script so that he knew exactly what to say and did so at the most opportune moment. He said, “I know you are hurting. I am hurting too. I wish I could do something about it (the situation that elicited the conflict), but I don’t know how.” That was it. He spoke simply of feelings, acknowledging that both were in pain, and said no more. The tone of the conversation then changed and they were able to engage in a loving way. His partner, who never apologizes, said she was sorry.
The formula is easy: Be curious. Ask engaging, positive questions. Listen to connect.
In the heat of a conflict it may not be so easy to follow the formula. Coaching support provides a different perspective and a different way of interacting rather than allowing patterned, emotional reactions to rule. The old patterns predictably result in pain and hurt, which creates distance rather than closeness. We yearn for intimacy and most of us have to learn how to create safe space for our hearts’ desire to be fulfilled. I know from experience that as I practice this response all of my relationships benefit.
In summary, when you are feeling hurt or angry with another remember the formula: Be curious. Ask engaging, positive questions. Listen to connect.
May 5, 2014