I was talking with a friend yesterday about some difficulty she was having with a family member. Seems the other person had made some rather snide remarks on the phone, and my friend was evaluating whether she wanted to continue to invest her energy in keeping that relationship active, or whether it might be best to just sort of let it wither away by attrition. I thought there had to be some middle ground, and so we looked for it together. We came up with something we thought was pretty pithy:
If you give yourself permission to leave the conversation, you may not feel the need to leave the relationship.
Granted, maybe eveyone but me and my friend had this figured out a long time ago. But on the other hand, maybe not. Because there seem to be a lot of conversations that continue far past the point of productivity, or even civility, and trespass into the territory where permanent damage occurs to the relationship.
Here's how we thought it might sound after a snide remark or an outright attack:
"You know, I just realized that I'm feeling sort of defensive right now, and I think I better hang up to take care of that for myself. Let's talk later."
Fill in the blank if defensive is not the right feeling - angry, frustrated, sad, etc. And if you are in person, not on the phone, then take a walk instead of hanging up.
Isnt' that elegant? Rather than defend or justify or even counter attack, you just take a break.
I'm impressed with this for two reasons - one, the other party is forced to take a break too, because you just removed her target. She can't go on to say something she regrets.
Two, the last thing she remembers from the conversation is that something she said triggered you. If she's interested, she can give some thought to what might have happened. If she's not, that's fine too. But at least you have not cluttered up her ears with a bunch of defenses or counter-attacks that divert her attention away from her words and onto yours. I betcha, nine times outta ten, you'll end up hearing an apology when you finally do reconnect. Okay, maybe eight times. But those are still pretty nice odds.
As an added bonus, if you notice yourself spending an awful lot of time hanging up or walking, the relationship is likely dying by attrition anyway, and you will not feel confused about the whole "stay or go" decision.
ps: Hey, I don't think I've mentioned yet that I have a new blog! check it out at www.advice-for-parents.com. that's where you'll find future posts about parenting issues ... well organized by topic and easy to access. I'm posting daily responses to questions from readers right now, so if you have any parenting questions, let me know.