1 Phrase to Help Stop Fights Before They Start

Posted by in Communication

Some people, cough:mywife:cough, say I suffer from a condition called Resting Jerk-Face.

Maybe you call it something different, but I’m sure you or someone you know also “suffers” from Resting Jerk Face (RJF). Know anyone who’s face naturally defaults to an angry or annoyed look? Yup, RJF.

They can be witnessing a double-rainbow or at a friend’s birthday party and they’ll just look…mad.
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Check out those photos. I know I’m totally happy and content in them, but you’d never know by looking at me. I look like any second I’m going to SNAP and go on a rampage.

The worst part of RJF? It’s not really me who suffers from it. In reality, it’s those around me who suffer the most. With my face defaulting the way it does, RJF can scare folks off and making an open, respectful conversation with me challenging.

Not long ago, my RJF caused some tension for Andrea and I. We were getting ready for bed and I was more quiet and stoic than usual. Evidently, my RJF was on full blast. Andrea, not wanting to end the day on a sour note, asked why I was upset. Had she said something to offend me? Did she do something to bother me?

Nope.

I had a bad taco earlier in the day and was feeling the early stages of food poisoning. But she didn’t know this. All she knew was I looked upset and her mind raced to figure out why, making up a story to make sense of the limited facts and explain the look on my face.

Just the facts, ma’am.

In a previous post I shared the “When X, I Y” script with you. It helps work through tough conversations when you’ve got objective, provable facts. But we’re not always going to be so lucky. Sometimes, we’re just going to have a feeling. Something’s wrong and we don’t know what.

When we find ourselves in these situations, our brains try to fill in the gaps. Just as Andrea did with my bad-taco induced RJF, we’ll make up a story to fit the limited facts to make sense of the situation. Like any good story, this one will Include good guys and bad guys.

More often than not, we’re the good guys in our stories, leaving our partners to play the role of bad guy. (Even if they’re not really…remember…we’re dealing with incomplete, subjective information…)

So what do we do? Here’s something we picked up from the brilliant Brene Brown at a conference I went to last year.

“The story I’m telling myself…”

When we’ve got incomplete information and a nasty story forming in our heads, we can use “The story I’m telling myself…” to respectfully share what we’re dealing with, engage our partner in filling in the gaps, and resolve what’s bothering us.

This is exactly what Andrea did the night of the bad taco. She saw my RJF, started making up a story to explain it, but then pulled out “The story I’m telling myself…” before her story featuring me as the villain turned nasty.

“James, you’ve got this nasty look on your face and the story I’m telling myself is you’re mad at me for some reason. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong…so what gives?”

I had no idea my what my RJF was communicating to Andrea or how it was putting her on edge. Thankfully, Andrea used this script to calmly share her concerns, get me to fill in the gaps of her story, and relieve the tension she was feeling.

This script can be especially helpful when discussing finances with your partner. Remember, there’s more to money than math. When we talk about our finances, we’re really talking about our hopes, fears, dreams, and plans for a better life. There’ll be gaps to fill in and tension as you pursue your goals. But you can use “The story I’m telling myself” to share your concerns with your partner and get on the same page.

For example…

“We’re trying to get our finances under control and stick to a budget, but the story I’m telling myself is you’re just trying to control me…”

Or…

“We’ve been working extra to pay off our student loans and we’re busy and tired, but the story I’m telling myself is you don’t want to spend time with me anymore…Not saying it’s true…but this is what’s going through my head right now.”

Then, just listen.

Wait for your partner’s response. Remember, they love you and don’t want to hurt you or see you hurt. If you use this script with love and respect, not to just score points in an ongoing fight, your partner will come alongside you, help you fill in the gaps, and work with you towards a good solution to what’s bothering you.

Use this script to involve your partner in writing a better ending to your story.

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