“I love this spaghetti, but the pasta is a bit mushy.”
You were trying to give a compliment…saying something nice. You were trying to connect through kind words. Unfortunately, with your phrasing, all your partner heard was “…the pasta is a bit mushy.” For all your good intentions, he/she is angry and hurt and threatening to have you do all the cooking!
Couples often get into conflicts due to word-choice.
“Yes…but” is a common source of disconnection
How does it work?
You say something neutral or positive; you are trying to be kind, to connect. Then, in the same breath/phrase you tack on a short “but….” and a mild critique or negative statement.
You are trying to be honest and be balanced in your feedback. Unfortunately, your partner will generally lose sight of the first part of the phrase and focus on the negative aspect almost entirely.
There are some psychological reasons we focus on the negative. Watch my video “Why It’s Hard to See the Good In Our Partners” to understand the reasons. Your partner isn’t necessarily being ‘negative’ nor needing to see a therapist due to low self esteem. Your partner is just being human.
It IS possible that both statements are true, though. Possibly the spaghetti is good and the pasta is mushy.
So the question is, can you give the constructive (or honest) feedback without negating the first part?
Yes! Here’s Some Ways to Try
Sandwich the feedback
Say something positive, then the critique, followed by another positive.
“I love this spaghetti. The pasta is a bit mushy but the spices really made the sauce.“
Soften the negative words
You can be critical of something but you don’t have to make it extreme. The world is not black/white, there is gray. There is also feedback that can be made ‘gray’, not AS critical.
“I love this spaghetti. The pasta is a little soft, but it’s delicious.”
Substitute a ‘pause’ where you would put the ‘BUT’
Although this can still feel like you are negating the first part, you actually aren’t. This is also good practice for you to even NOTICE you were about to say ‘but’.
“I love this spaghetti; the pasta is a BIT mushy” (I would soften my voice here).
Express the feedback from a kind, caring place
Often times, if we really have good intentions behind our feedback, that intention is expressed in our body language and vocal tone. So when you are giving the feedback, allow yourself to feel the love you have for your partner…let that inspire how your voice and body express the feedback.
“Thank you for making this spaghetti; I love it. I tend to cook my pasta a little shorter time; we just do it differently.”
Possibly Don’t Even Give the Negative Feedback
We often times think of things that we decide not to say. Just because you have an opinion, you don’t HAVE to express it. When we are working on improving our connections, it’s about deciding what is worth possibly hurting our partner’s feelings over. And what is not.
“I love this spaghetti!“
Pick one of the patterns from above that you want to practice this week; inform your parter you are trying to do things differently.
Give your partner permission to help you in this activity, as you will not realize you have said “but“; your partner can notice it and give you an opportunity to express yourself differently.
Start Improving Your Relationship Today with a Private Couples Intensive or a Couples Workshop
Relationships depend on communication, yet it’s something we don’t always do well. You don’t have to keep getting into conflicts and have hours or days of disconnection over simple communication issues. There is hope; your relationship CAN be different.
Private Couple Intensives (Retreats) and “Hold Me Tight®” Couples Workshops can help you learn communication skills, reduce conflicts, and re-connect even stronger than before. New England Hold Me Tight has skilled therapists and relationship coaches who specialize in helping couples who want to save a marriage or fix a relationship.
To start on your path towards better communication and a stronger connection in your relationship, follow these simple steps:
1. Contact Bri McCarroll at New England Hold Me Tight.
2. Meet for a free 50-minute consultation (video or in office).
4. Communicate more effectively and connect better than you imagined possible.
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