Surviving in Captivity: Fact Checking, Assumptions and “You and Me Against the Problem”

“Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost.”  Khalil Gibran 

“Words are the source of misunderstandings.” 

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The crucible of captivity In these days where we are together with our household members more and more in our attempts to control the Coronavirus, the things that are not working particularly well between household members are destined to come more and more to the surface. Having some tools to handle these situations well can shift us from destroying out relationships, to using the currently challenges to help them grow. Today’s tools include Fact Checking, Assumptions, and “You and Me Against the Problem”  But that’s not what I said! Have you ever said something and then been stunned by the venomous pushback you got? You thought you were just asking about dinner plans and your partner responded as if you told them you thought they were some sort of blithering idiot. If you then respond defensively, a circular, pointless fight erupts with neither one of you knowing why you are fighting about food. Because you aren’t fighting about food. The clothes the argument is wearing If it seems like you keep getting into arguments about things that seem like they are trivial, chances are the arguments aren’t about those things at all. In most conflicts, a little examination will show that there is the clothes the argument is wearing, (dinner, dishes, cleaning, budgeting, time,) and then the actual argument underneath.  Those arguments are much closer to the bone:  Does she value me?  Does he expect me to do everything for us? Do they really love me? Do they care about my feelings? Until you have conversations around the actual issues and resolve them, they will just keep popping back up in any clothes they can find. Fact Checking and Assumptions One way to get to the actual argument, (shedding the clothes it’s wearing,) is with “Fact Checking.”

Bethany and Caleb got along very well!  Unless they talked about money or sex. Conversations about either quickly devolved them into either not speaking at all, or screaming at each other. Tired of the lather-rinse-repeat, they decided to come in for couple’s counseling.

In the midst of a typical argument, Caleb exasperatedly yelled at Bethany, “Fine! If you’re so amazing with money, you can pay all of the bills. I’ll sit here in the corner like a little kid and hope you give me an allowance, because I’m apparently too stupid to handle my own money!”

Bethany was legitimately confused. All she had done was ask him if there was any money in their joint checking account.  She was looking at something they needed to buy for the household and wondered if Caleb knew how much was in there off the top of his head. She had no idea what she had done to earn this scream-fest.  I encouraged Bethany to fact check what she thought she had heard Caleb say:

After calming and centering herself using the Baby Breathing technique I had taught her, (see ) Bethany said, “Ok, I’m totally confused. I thought I was asking you about the bank balance to save me a minute of going to the app and checking, but it sounds like you heard me attacking and criticizing the way you manage money. Is that right?”

This led to a much more honest, (and calm) conversation about Caleb’s doubts about Bethany’s confidence in Caleb. This was the real conversation they needed to have.  Having it in a less loaded environment helped them both see and understand each other in very important ways.

Instead of getting into defensive screaming matches, this couple finds that they are more and more able to catch their assumptions, put them in the air, address them, and grow closer to each other in the process.

Attack the Problem, not the Person One of the happy byproducts of Fact Checking is that it helps us stick to the topic. It is so easy for a conflict to devolve into “Me against You,” which gets us nowhere but hurt. Instead, when we fact check, we are shifting the energy of the conversation to “Me and You Against the Problem.” We are no longer battling to preserve our egos, but rather, trying to understand each other better. Trust me, you’ll like it a whole lot more! Coming Up Next Whether the other person is your partner, your roommate or your child, fact checking what you thought you heard will help you steer the conversation into something much more constructive.  In my next installment, we will talk about Expectations and using the XYZ Formula as a way to increase the harmony in our households.
Stay tuned to this space for: Expectations: The What and the How,  the XYZ Formula and the 4 Answers (It’s better than getting sucked into the vortex of your Twitter account!)