| Dr. Steven
"You never want to have sex." "You always yell at
me." "You should give me what I want." "You ought
to do a better job." "You must finish this today."
As I wrote last time, these are statements that I often hear
during couples counseling sessions. And it bears repeating
these statements have one communications-destroying element in common.
The listener is almost guaranteed to become defensive and unwilling
to continue listening to the speaker.
In the previous column we looked at how destructive and limiting
the words "should," "ought," and "must" can be when you're trying
to resolve a conflict with your partner. This time we will look
at the use of the words "never" and "always."
Seldom is any relationship issue as black or white as is
implied by the words "never" or "always." That is, it's rare that
a member of a couple will either never or always act in a particular
way. It might be more accurate to say that a person will either
often or seldom act in a particular way. A subtle difference, yes,
but a difference with great weight and often grave consequences
Consider a fictional couple. Rita says, "You never listen
to me." Bill, knowing that he often listens to Rita, becomes defensive
and says, "You always blame me for everything." Rita, knowing that
she often takes personal responsibility for relationship difficulties,
withdraws in anger. The outcome: Bill and Rita end up feeling disappointed
and nothing gets resolved. The culprit: "never" and "always."
Is it really probable that Bill never, ever listens to Rita?
Not likely. Is it possible that Bill listens to Rita less than Rita
desires? Sure. Is it likely that Rita always blames Bill for everything?
Probably not. Might she be blaming Bill more often than feels justified
to him? Yes, that could happen.
What can Bill and Rita say that will be less likely to cause
a defensive reaction? Bill, for example, might say, "I'm feeling
frustrated because it feels like you aren't listening to me." Julie,
no longer on the defensive, might then respond, "I guess I've been
feeling distant. I'm not sure what to do." Defenses down, Bill and
Rita are ready to try to work things out.
If you want to resolve an issue with your partner, you would
be well advised to delete the words "never" and "always" from your
conversation. If eliminating "never" and "always" from your conversations
doesn't lead to fewer arguments in your relationship, it might be
time to see a relationship specialist.
If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally
or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm
yourself or someone else, please phone the 24-hour-per-day Crisis
Line at 215-7082. A trained counselor will help you through your
Dr. Steven Cohn is the Director of the Portland Couples
Counseling Center. He specializes in treating couples from all backgrounds.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cohn or if
you would like to request a complimentary brochure, please phone