Avoiding High Risk Interactions
We have learned from research the fastest and most effective way to build trust in a relationship. Before getting to the bottom line on building trust, let’s set the stage. You may have heard the expression, “Relationships are complex”. I imagine most people would agree with that statement. In any relationship there are inevitably going to be times when partners feel confused about what just happened in an interaction that went south.
Marci and Jeff
Marci and Jeff would agree that their morning went great – at first. Jeff woke up before Marci and quietly put the coffee on while Marci caught a few more minutes of sleep. Marci awoke to a smiling Jeff who brought her coffee with just the right amount of milk and sugar.
Jeff came back to bed to finish his cup. This was a ritual for them. Marci knew Jeff didn’t like to talk much until after that first cup, so she and Jeff sat quietly and comfortably in the silence. Marci offered to make breakfast which Jeff gratefully accepted and appreciated.
After breakfast they agreed to a “walk and talk”, another ritual well established in their relationship. On the walk Jeff told Marci that he was feeling stressed about his upcoming meeting with his co-worker. They were collaborating on a project and Jeff was upset that his colleague did not follow through on something. Jeff was anxious about the meeting and hated conflict, but this had to be dealt with.
Marci knowing that Jeff was uncomfortable with conflict responded initially by acknowledging Jeff’s dread. She then tried to lower Jeff’s anxiety by offering suggestions on how Jeff could handle the interaction.
Jeff stopped in his tracks. Marci stopped. Then Jeff walked ahead of her obviously upset. What just happened?
Why Advice Does Not Work (Usually)
On the surface it doesn’t seem like Marci did anything wrong. All she was trying to do was reassure and comfort Jeff. One could argue that Jeff was being too sensitive, even immature. “Come on Jeff, I’m just trying to help.”
When Jeff heard Marci offer suggestions he felt like he was eight-years old. He wasn’t asking for suggestions, what he wanted was a friend to listen. Jeff knew Marci was trying to be helpful, but he already had a plan for how he was going to handle the interaction. In fact, he was going to run that plan by Marci, but it never got that far. In that moment Jeff felt alone.
When partners offer unsolicited advice the risk is unintentionally communicating that they have a solution the other person has not thought of. It can feel very parental and at worst, demeaning. In some cases, old wounds from childhood may create old, familiar feelings.
Marci recognized that she is a problem-solver and she too quickly moved into solutions once again. After acknowledging her slip, she asked Jeff to try again and that she would work on listening. The walk ended well.
Try This Instead
Additional Tip: Intimacy Moments of Opportunity Abound