Relationship Problems–We’ve all got ’em!
In today’s podcast, David and Fabrice address five questions submitted by listeners who listened to the recent series of podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication:
- Elie: I kept disarming my wife who was criticizing me, and it didn’t work. She just got angry! What am I doing wrong?
- Joli: Dr. Burns, all of your examples of relationship problems in involve errors the women are making. This is chauvinistic! Why are you always blaming women? I think you must have had problems with women in the past!
- Tamara: The five podcasts on the Five Secrets were at a very introductory level. Can you do some more teaching at a more advanced level?
- Rajesh: I was in a conflict with a very demanding friend and I said, “I understand how you feel.” My friend just got more annoyed. Why? What am I doing wrong? Also, what should you do if the person who’s criticizing you is just saying a lot of things that are distorted, things that aren’t really true?
- Jonathan: A friend said, “You’re so damn cheap!” This was my response: “Yeah I mean sometimes I do get a little upset and annoyed when I’m judged by you like that. To be quite honest, I don’t like it when you say stuff like that.” How did I do? Does my response need to be improved?
David and Fabrice love your questions so keep them coming! At the next session, we are going to begin a new episode series on Five Secrets of Happiness.
Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!
At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.
Thanks for all your interesting conversations about the 5 secrets! I’d like to share a thought that came up in reference to Elie’s frustration with the poor response to their attempts at the disarming technique. In the homework it was said to try this 5 times with strangers for a reason. It seems the best reason would be that these people don’t have a reference to how you would respond otherwise… they are virtual blank slates. This is a great way to practice the technique and learn what you do well and what you could do better. With family and spouses and friends, however, a sudden shift between a common response of denial to a constant stream of agreement would seem confusing and ridiculous. It generally comes across as disingenuous. This can be frustrating because you actually do mean it, and they just don’t believe you! But baby steps are key… build that trust over time and they will realize that you’re not just putting on a front, but that you actually intend to get closer to them. Good luck!
Thanks Shantel, this is good thinking, too. The assignment was to use each technique (in this case the Disarming Technique) in a trivial way not involving conflict, with strangers, just to get a feel for each technique. When you are dealing with a real conflict with loved ones, friends, or even strangers, you have to integrate all of the Five Secrets in a genuine, non-formulaic way. This takes just as much practice and effort, in my opinion, as learning to play a musical instrument. It does not happen over night! And getting good at it can be the project of a lifetime, really, continually improving and reaping the rewards along the way! david
Dear Dr. Burns,
I’ve read your book ‘feeling good together’ and the five secrets all seem very meaningful. I can see how integrating them and using them well can be like a form of art, and your point that they tend to not work too well when used in isolation makes sense. However, when I try to apply them in real life, this leads to a problem: when I’m in an emotionally charged situation with my partner and think ‘this is a moment where I should use the 5 secrets’, this creates a kind of performance stress, as I feel the pressure to remember all the secrets and compose a thoughtful and genuine response in real time, almost to write a speech in my head while the other person is waiting. This removes my focus from my partner, towards trying to ‘do well’, in other words my ego gets in the way. (Sometimes then I just give up and say ‘I don’t know what to say’ because when I’m silent for too long it just might seem like I’m not going to say anything and just ignore them). For this reason I think it would be beneficial for me to sometimes not use all five secrets while I’m still not too good at it; also because using all five secrets tends to create very long responses that don’t feel natural to me in the moment. (Partly, this time pressure probably comes from stress and is not ‘real’, but at the moment it feels that way).
A related point is your insistence on being genuine instead of manipulative. I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I love your formulation of ‘find / look for truth in what the other person is saying’ because it suggests we are searching for something that in fact really exists. I think your claim that the other person is always right in some way is very powerful and mind-opening. Yet, phrases like ‘use the five secrets skillfully’ do suggest that the aim is some kind of manipulation, and this does bother me while I’m trying to use these techniques. In that moment, I feel like I am in some way trying to manipulate the other person and like I want to let them know what I’m doing, or I’d feel like I’d be deceiving them, yet that would again remove the focus from their issue to me and what I am trying to do.
I do feel like these techniques are very promising. Your book has shown me that I’ve been doing many things wrong, but it is very challenging because I tend to be very stubborn and defensive and am not good at understanding either my own emotions or those of others, so to try a fight on all these fronts at the same time often leads to total overwhelm. Meanwhile my partner is a very sensitive person who can react with very strong emotions to things I say or do and who has been depressed for many years, so I feel like each time I screw up it has a high price. At the same time, I feel like the struggle is worth it because these interactions teach me a lot, and your book did seem to show a path forward. So thanks a lot for that!
HI Fabienne, there is a lot of wisdom in your thoughtful questions. I have said repeatedly that the ONLY learning comes from the written exercises described in my books, like Feeling Good Together, with the Relationship Journal. All the pontificating and analyzing won’t lead anywhere without the written exercises. I have no doubt that you’re doing them, so just send me an example of your work, where you’re stuck, and I’ll give you some tips, and also a link to a free Five Secrets weekly practice group. Thanks! Hope I hear from you, but . . . some of the time I don’t! david
Dear Dr. Burns,
Thanks for taking the time to reply!
That makes sense, If I understood you correctly, in that way, the ‘trying to get it right’ gets focused only on the homework exercises, and then in real life, our spontaneous responses would get better and better by themselves…
Yes, I did do most of the written homework exercises, thanks for the offer to have a look at them, and the hint to continue practicing in writing! I’d be interested in a weekly practice group 🙂
Yes, exactly, thanks. For the 5 Secrets practice group, contact ana silva
Re: Jonathan’s “I feel” statements…
I can relate to Jonathan’s example above, because whenever I try an “I feel” statement, I often turn it in to “I feel like you…”, which isn’t a feeling statement at all, it’s actually a criticism of the other person.
I really appreciate the “Feeling Words” list linked in podcast 69 show notes. It is a very good reference for me to learn how to express the emotion I feel.
Big thank-you to those risk-takers for writing in. Not only are we learning from David and Fabrice, we are learning from all of you too!
(PS. Did I use some elements of 5 secrets in this comment?)
Thanks Jess for you kind and thoughtful comments! Appreciated! And yes, you may have used a little Stroking in your note, always a good idea! And done really well, too! d
Dear Dr Burns and Fabrice
After listening to the podcast ‘Confront a fear’ I decided to take action. I spoke to my friend with all the empathy, respect and ‘I feel’ statements I genuinely could. Kudos to my friend who was also gentle and genuine. It helped us get past the blockage of hurt. Whether we will or can or need to talk about underlying values one day remains to be seen. I felt so good afterwards.
Its a journey. Thank you for showing me some of the steps.
I noticed my previous comment is still awaiting moderaton. On balance, feel free to not publish my comments at all – they are probably apt to be misunderstood in these charged times.
Thanks, AE! Actually, we answered your very important question, I’m pretty sure, on yesterday’s David and Jill Show at 3 PM Pacific on my public FB page. You can listen to it any time, and let us know what you think! david