One summer day when my son, Todd, was home from college, he stayed out until 3:00 in the morning. It was not like him to stay out so late without calling. Talk about being nervous! I could not sleep. I paced the floors. All kinds of fearful thoughts passed through my mind. 'What if he has been in a car accident and is hurt somewhere? What if someone has hurt him?' Besides being anxious I was angry.
'Doesn't he care about me? If he cared, he would have called.' Not only was I angry because he seemed thoughtless but mostly because I felt powerless to do anything about it.
Finally, I saw the headlights of his car pulling into the driveway. I was relieved, but still fuming. How do I approach him? If I lead off with my anger, all I will get is a reaction to my anger and not to the issue. If I lead off with anger, he will close down and we will find ourselves in a stalemate. I decided to lead off with my soft feelings, which in this case, were fear and anxiety. I said to him, 'I was so worried when you did not call to let me know where you were. I thought something had happened to you.' Todd responded in a great way. After a brief discussion, we talked about ways to handle this problem next time. Also, I told him that it is not a matter of control but caring.
If we begin sharing our problem with accusations and labeling, we can count on the argument becoming a stand off. If we begin with statements such as these: 'You lazy jerk. Why don't you help me?' we know how the discussion will go from that point on! And if we lead off with anger, we will most likely get a reaction to our anger, such as defensiveness, closing down, or more anger.
When we are angry, it is wise to pause in order not to be reactive. During this pause, we can explore what our other feelings are and lead off with one of them. Conflicts go better with soft introductions.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700