(RE)ENGAGING YOUR PARTNER CONSTRUCTIVELY

Create Empathy. Once you’ve decided on the appropriate time and place, the best way to get a partner to understand how you have been hurt is to explain how you’re feeling. Don’t attack (assign blame), ask a ton of questions (create a defensive environment), or try to impose a solution (control the outcome)—don’t tell your partner exactly what they must do to fix the problem (“I want you to never talk to her again!”). Simply explain that you’re feeling sad, hurt, fearful, whatever. Try to focus on emotional terms, many of which we listed in chapter 6, that best capture your feelings and are likely to create an empathetic response.

Saying “I’m so angry” is far less effective than saying “I’m so hurt.” While both words describe what being betrayed feels like, hurt has a better chance of being heard. Always go with the phrase that’s both truthful and has the best chance of getting your partner to understand your point of view. Avoid using words that cast judgment on your partner. Instead, focus on words that highlight your distress. Here are some examples of how emotions can be expressed in ways that produce empathy:

Emotional Expression Empathetic Expression
I am so pissed off. I’m so hurt.
How could you betray me? I’m confused about how and why this happened.
You’re so rude and inconsiderate. I’m so sad.
You destroyed my life. I’m uncertain about our future.
You humiliated me. I’m feeling embarrassed.
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