Relationship Toolkit: Standing Your Ground
Joe arrives home, in a sunny mood. His wife, Joanne, greets him at the door—“I’m really ticked off at you! I really didn’t like the way you handled our daughter last night!” She’s mad. Their teen, Sarah, came home 30 minutes after her curfew. Joe talked with her about it, but Joanne was upset with his approach.
Mary’s sister Beth is always asking her for help—money, rides, and you-name-it! If Mary can’t help, Beth becomes angry and hostile. And, she can be pretty guilt inducing too! It’s very hard for Mary to say no, even when she wants to.
The joys of conflict.
Most adults don’t like dissension. They avoid it; try to get around it, under it, or over it. Some folks are allergic to it! They will do anything to avoid confrontation. They can’t stand disagreement. They want peace and harmony. But sometimes, it is out of reach.
Most often we react to the other person’s anger or criticism. When we hear their rebuke or their demand, our heart starts to pound, we start sweating, and our breathing becomes short and shallow. Yup, our sympathetic nervous system is kicking in, and we are feeling that fight or flight response. If we are inclined to “fight” we might go on the offense. Joe, reacting to Joanne’s rebuke, argues that she is too strict—“Our daughter can’t stand you!” he quips. And they are off to the races.
If we want to “run” (flight), maybe we apologize without really feeling sorry. Or we do something that we really don’t want to do. Mary agrees to drive her sister Beth to the mall, even though she really doesn’t want to. The net result—resentment. Not so good for Joe or Mary--or for me or you.
Now, instead of reacting, think about how you would like to respond. One comes from your gut (nervous system) and the latter comes from your head and your heart. So here is what you can do:
- Calm your body. Before you can really think about how you want to respond, you must quiet your body’s reaction. Breathe, relax your jaw, and let your shoulders and neck settle down — take three long deep breaths. Now you can think more clearly.
- How do you want to respond? Suppose you really don’t want to drive your sister to the mall. Maybe this is a good time to say “No—I am not available”. What if Joe felt his approach to their teen was O.K. Should he apologize?—probably not.
- Stand your ground. Standing your ground is neither aggressive nor defensive. It is receptive. For example, in the case of being scolded, listen. What is the other person thinking, feeling, and communicating? Ask a question before you make a statement.
For example, Joe asks his wife what she felt was wrong about his tactic. What approach did she think was preferable? Why? Perhaps she is making some good points. Acknowledge them. But, it is also fine, to let her know that despite her excellent ideas, Joe still feels that his method was reasonable.
Mary can stand her ground too. It is possible to say “no”-- kindly, firmly, and with compassion. She says, “I know that you really want to go to the mall, but I am not available to bring you--maybe some other time”. When Beth ramps up her rampage—stand your ground, without getting angry or defensive. And it is also okay to end the conversation.
- It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. It’s your job to look out for yourself. Don’t expect others to do it for you.
What do you think? Share your perspective with the Family Talk community!