One of the most common and destructive behaviors is overreacting when we perceive we are threatened, especially, ironically, with your loved ones. Here’s an example:
Sarah does something benign but her husband, John, takes offense. Unbeknownst to Sarah, John’s feelings are hurt, and he points out the offending act with a sharp tone. Sarah, not understanding why John is suddenly speaking to her with a sharp tone, says she feels attacked and defends herself by launching a counterattack. Now we have an argument, and neither John nor Sarah really understand what is going on other than the fact that they both feel innocent of any wrongdoing and unjustly attacked. After a period of heated words, a calmer discussion sorts it all out, and after a few days life goes back to normal. Sound familiar?
What to Do When You Feel Attacked
When someone you care about appears to offend you, stop.
Think: I know it is possible I am misinterpreting what just happened. Do I really believe he/she suddenly doesn’t love me? No. I know he/she loves me deeply and means no harm.
Next: As calmly as possible, say something like this to your partner. “I think I am misunderstanding what you mean; would you say it again in a different way?”
If you still feel like the other person is attacking, then try: “I know you don’t mean it this way, but you are speaking in a way that is a little intense. Maybe you don’t realize it. If you wouldn’t mind, let’s take a few moments and then you can talk about it. I do want to talk, but after a few minutes.”
More Than Words
Usually arguments are all about feeling hurt by the tone of what was said more than what was said. This is why you often don’t remember what you fought about a few days later, because it wasn’t so much about the actual words but how you emotionally reacted to the tone of voice and body language of the other person. So, when angry or hurt, avoid going over the details. Address only the miscommunication and forgive the situation. You can then discuss the original topic when you both are calm.
Peace is not only the absence of war, but also a way of seeing the world, and the choices we make are how we express and manifest that vision of the world.