Avoid These Words at all Costs

WHY, ALWAYS, NEVER, SHOULD. Those four words are especially inflammatory. They immediately put your partner on the defensive. “Why do you always leave your dirty dishes in the sink? You should know how disrespectful that is to me!” A statement like that won’t persuade you partner to change. It might get some short-term, resentful change, but you will pay for it when your partner hurls an accusation back your way, and you find yourself in an escalating game of “Which One of Us is the Worst?” Instead, try this: “Hey, could you put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink? I know it’s probably not a big deal to you, but I really appreciate being able to use the sink without having to move the dishes out of it. Thanks for understanding!”

Maybe you’ve made the request like that numerous times, and you haven’t gotten lasting change. If so, the answer isn’t to escalate to the other version. In that case, you need to pivot slightly and say something like, “you know, it seems like we’ve had this exchange several times, where I ask you if you could move your dishes to the dishwasher, and you do it a couple of times but then stop, and then I find the dishes in the sink again, and I feel annoyed when I have to move them out of the way. Is there some reason that you don’t want to move the dishes to the dishwasher, or do you just forget, or is there something else going on? I want to be able to find a compromise that works for both of us, so we both feel comfortable sharing space in the kitchen.”

You might have noticed that both of my examples of proactive communication are longer and more complex than the first example of what to avoid. You might even be thinking that it will feel weird to talk like this. Yes, it might feel weird, and you might really struggle with it. You are learning to talk like a diplomat. You are looking for a peaceful resolution to a problem. You are assuming that the other person has their own agenda that is different from yours, and you are choosing to try and get your way through persuasion, not punishment, for the sake of protecting the relationship. With practice it will feel more comfortable, and you will be able to find the words that work best in you relationship. In essence, you are building a new language with your partner–a language that supports collaboration instead of conflict.