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Thursday, October 18, 2012

From "Why Do You Always?" to "I Like It When..."

When we are having an unpleasant exchange with a friend or family member, we often take on an adversarial, "prosecuting attorney" role, with lots of “Why do you always?” and “Why can’t you ever?” kind of language. We really want something from the other person, but rather than making a polite request, we pile on blame.

Somewhere we've adopted the strange belief that the best way to get others to behave better is to make them feel worse.

What if we could take on the role of a "defense attorney" instead, in which we act as an advocate for the other person (and for the relationship)? In that mode, we can practice simply informing the other person as to what he or she could do that could really make things better. I other words, we offer information rather than accusation.

I always try to get couples in my office to switch to that kind of language when they find themselves engaging in escalating rounds of blame and conflicts. What a difference it makes if they can join hands, look at each other and express their wishes in the form of “I like it when...” statements, such as:

“I like it when you tell me you're really glad to see me when I get home, and don’t make some complaint the first thing I hear.”

“I really like it when you take time to listen to what I have to say and show me that you've really heard me, and not get defensive right away.”

“I love it when you take time to give me a warm, spontaneous hug like you did earlier today. It makes me feel really glad I married you.”

Why not try turning all of our complaints into respectful requests, or better yet, into warm expressions of “I like it when,” a guaranteed way of giving a relationship a much needed lift.
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