Here is a scene you may be familiar with. You and your ex are trying to get back together and all seems to be going well. Then you say or do something that your ex interprets as a criticism, an attack or insult. Your ex retaliates in words or action. You who meant no harm in the first place, now feel that your ex’s reaction is uncalled for or over the top. Before you know it, defenses go up, and it snowballs from there.
It’s not that you failed to communicate it’s that one person said something but the other heard a completely different thing. The two of you may think you are talking about the same thing, but really are just using the same word for two different ideas or things.
Certain words or phrases just have a way of triggering unpleasant emotions and eliciting responses that affect the outcome. The difference between what one person says and what the other hears is even greater if the break-up was unpleasant.
Words and phrases that trigger unpleasant emotions often have the following characteristics:
— They express bad feelings– includes blaming, trying to abdicate responsibility, trying to prove your ex is wrong and you are right, getting off track by focusing on how difficult or obnoxious your ex seems etc.
— They make your ex feel like he or she is being told what to do — includes offering unwelcome and unsolicited advice (coaching, psychoanalyzing or counselling).
— They label your ex unfairly or negatively — includes demeaning, name-calling, talking ill of your ex, glossing it over issues etc
— They exaggerate feelings/hurt — includes trying to create guilt, using excessive dramatic language, making up stuff that didn’t even happen etc.
— They show desperation and neediness — includes pressuring your ex to change, offering reassurances that are hollow or not based on reality, lacking in understanding of needs and wants with respect to the issues that caused the break-up etc.
18 of the commonest “hot” words and phrases that trigger unpleasant emotions no matter how nice your tone of voice may be include:
1. You claim that…
2. You have a problem with…
3. Do you understand?
4. You don’t understand/fail to understand that…
5. I think you need to…
6. What’s your problem?
7. This has to stop!
8. You are being unfair
9. Why do you always have to be…
10. I don’t care/whatever…..
11. That does not deserve a response
12. Nothing I say/do is ever right/good enough for you!
13. I’m sorry that that’s how you feel but…
14. You have no regard for my feelings
15. You wouldn’t treat me this way if…
16. You’re playing games
17. There we go again
18. Calm down!
The bottom line is that words and phrases are powerful.
The good news is that the kind of misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication that happen because of poorly chosen words can be resolved with open and positive communication. I say open and positive communication because the absence of communication (i.e. no contact) in many instances also triggers unpleasant emotions. When you cut off all contact, you also cut off any communication avenues for clarifying unresolved issues or actions, or even stopping a rumour.
Understanding how words and language (or lack thereof) affect your day-to-day communication with your ex will set a more positive and pleasant tone for the interaction, allow you to manage all your interactions (email, text, phone or face-to-face) with confidence, and increases the chances of a positive outcome.
All the very best!
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