It happened again. You didn’t mean to say anything. You knew it would blow everything up. But someone had to do something. Someone had to man up and put so and so in his/her place. You were the only one with the guts to do it. You hated to hurt feelings, but someone had to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. And now, it’s all over but the crying. It doesn’t matter who is the other person in this scenario, husband, wife, child, parent, brother, sister, church-member, co-worker, employee, boss. It’s now a mess. The emotional mess is all over the place. There is psychological blood running on the floor. And now you wish you hadn’t said it, but you just didn’t know what to do. Someone had to say something. The question is did they have to say what you did?
Let’s talk about that.
The False Dilemma of Fight or Flight Communicating
Sadly, we too often fall into the trap of the false dilemma. A false dilemma is believing you only have two choices when in fact you have at least one other, usually many others.
Somebody has done or said something that really bothers you. It hurt your feelings, made you angry, drove you up an ever-loving wall. In that moment, your body started to react with the fight or flight mentality. You can only see two choices.
Choice 1: Flight
You begin to look for safety, thinking, “I can’t say anything. That would rock the boat. That would cause too many problems. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I don’t want to cause trouble. We’ll end up having a fight and I don’t want that.” So you swallow the emotions, shut your mouth, and just take it.
But a little bit of you seethes with resentment. Why are you always the one to sacrifice and be the doormat? And the fuse in your time bomb burns just a little bit more leading you closer and closer to blowing up.
Choice 2: Fight
You’ve finally had enough. It’s gone too far. Someone has to say something. If it won’t be someone else, it might as well be you. You hate to do it. You know it will hurt, but it has to be done. There will be blood, but eventually folks will get over it.
And so you attack. It felt good for a few minutes, but now that it’s over you can’t help but wonder if it did any other good. Your marriage is on the rocks. Or your boss is considering firing you. Or your employee has quit. Or the church is now splitting. Or your kids hate you. Or your parents have now grounded your for life. Or your friend won’t speak to you. Or…
Seek the Third Alternative
Ask yourself a couple of questions.
- What is prompting me to want to fight? That is, what meaning, information, feeling do I need to get out on the table or I’ll explode?
- What is prompting me to flight? That is, what do I fear that makes me want to avoid talking it out?
Now, put those two things together and calmly pursue your conversation.
Your husband consistently comes home later from work than he told you he would:
“Honey, I know we both want to have a great day and we want our marriage to be filled with closeness and intimacy. There is something happening that I feel like is driving a wedge in that relationship and I need to talk to you about it, but I definitely don’t want to get in a fight which will drive a deeper wedge and I don’t want to say anything that will make you think I don’t value the work you do for us and our family. Can we talk about it?”
Your wife consistently reserves the discipline of the kids for you when you get home:
“Hey sweetheart, I know we both want to have consistent discipline of the kids, and we both need support from each other when discipline needs to happen, and we both want our discipline to be the most effective it can be for our kids without pushing them to hate us or rebel. However, I fear that our present approach to discipline is not helping our kids and is hurting at least my relationship with them. I need to talk to you about it. However, I don’t want you to think I don’t support you, and I completely want to understand what you are struggling with during your day with them, and I certainly don’t want to hurt our relationship by getting into a competition or a fight. Can we talk about it?”
Your boss is taking your work for granted, repeatedly dropping last minute projects on you:
“Excuse me, sir. I’m having a bit of a struggle. I love working here. And I think we both want this company to be the best it can be for our customers. I also think we both want a peaceful working environment that allows us to all get along, work together as a team, and make our department one of the best in the company. Recently, something has been happening that has been taking away some of that peace for me and prompting some resentment. But I do not want to say anything that might seem disrespectful, or make you doubt my loyalty to the company or to you, or cause you to think I don’t like working for and with you. Is there some time we can talk about this, just so I can get back to a good place and be the best employee I can be?”
Another church member keeps snapping at people when they disagree with him/her:
“Hey brother/sister, I love being part of this congregation. I think you would agree that this congregation has the potential to really accomplish some great things for the Lord. And I think we both agree that we have to be concerned about turning away from the Lord and His will. I’m convinced that can only happen when we are all working on our relationships and developing some good unity with each other so we can work through problems and disagreements. I have some fears that something is happening that is threatening that peace and unity. I’d love to talk about it with you, but I don’t want to get into some kind of heated debate that will threaten the unity itself. And I certainly don’t want you to think I believe you or anyone else here is a troublemaker. I want to avoid getting defensive with each other. I’d just like to work through some things with you that are bothering me. Can we get together and work on that some time?”
Sure, this is kind of awkward. And certainly, no matter how hard we try, some people will not respond properly. But we can remember that a soft answer turns away wrath. Let’s just work on this key of positive communication and problem solving. I have no doubt we’ll see our relationships improve. Let’s not fall for the false dilemma, either side of that one destroys relationships. Instead, seek the third alternative and pursue your conversation. Watch your relationships brave the rapids of problems, disagreements, and struggles to come out on the other side stronger, deeper, and more meaningful.