A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.
Covid-19 was wearing on us. My husband and I have experienced some health concerns for ourselves and others, as well as some economic worries. What impacted us the most, however, was taking care of three grandchildren as parents work.
Along with some very funny and fulfilling moments, I have had moments of wanting to tear my hair out. We have had to develop new skills, figure out how to acknowledge our emotions and care for ourselves, as well as how to compassionately communicate with each so that we can work better together.
A few days ago, I could feel myself getting angry at my husband, John. My internal vigilante wanted to point out how little he was doing, how exhausted I was.
In fact, John was doing a lot. He was going for groceries, helping with cooking and clean-up, mowing our lawn, paying bills, tutoring one of the children with math, bug hunting and jumping on the trampoline with the younger ones.
Still I wanted him to do something else. Give me a break. But how was he to know? Though he is a smart and sensitive guy, mind-reading is not one of his strengths.
How was I going to tell him exactly what I needed? I needed to get clear on it myself first. What I wanted, valued, and needed was to get on the treadmill for forty minutes around 3:00 p.m. every day. I needed to move my body and clear my head in the afternoon so I could keep going. You would think that would be simple to state (I just did), then request his help. It was not.
Why was this so hard I mused to myself? Why did I want to throw in all that other stuff about how tired I was and how he was not doing enough? Maybe I wanted to get some empathy. Maybe I wanted a hug, a pat on the back. I am not so silly, however, as to think I would get that hug, nor his cheerful help, if I approached him with complaints and accusations.
After a quick mental sort, I was clear. Though the hug would be a nice bonus and might on other occasions be exactly what I wanted, what I wanted more than anything these days was a 3:00 walk on the treadmill. I pondered how to effectively ask John for his help while considering and respecting that he had his own agenda – his own things to get done, his own wants, concerns, and needs.
Thankfully, a helpful memory came to mind. Eli, our three-year-old was sitting at the dining-room table a few days ago. Kids were wanting this and that, the usual dinnertime chaos. Smiling, Eli turned to me and asked, “May I have a little milk, please?”
“Of course!” I replied as I scooted off to get it.
When I returned with his milk, he looked up, said “Thank you,” and then added “You got it for me because I used gentle words, right?”
“Gentle words.” Gentle words were what I needed a lot more of in my life – especially right now when I wanted to honor my own emotions and needs and had these unhelpful accusatory words that wanted to pop out. Nasty words and conflict would be of no use when we needed to have a strong, resilient team.
I knew where to look for help. American psychologist, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of compassionate and non-violent communications, was a master of gentle words. I re-read his story and reminded myself of a 4-step process he popularized.
I will not go through the steps in detail, but the first idea is to strip away your accusations and judgments and stick to the facts. “Yesterday, I was hoping to get on the treadmill around three, but there was no one to care for the children.”
It can help to let the other person know what emotions you are dealing with (sad, mad, disappointed) without pointing a finger. Then most importantly, state simply what you want and how they can help.
When I tried the process out, it was not exactly right, but it worked out. I said something like “I know you are working your butt off, John, but today I did not get to get on the treadmill. I feel so much better when I can do that. If you could help me do that, it would be great.”
John replied, “I’m not working my butt off, but it’s hard for me sometimes. I just cannot play with kids like you can in this environment.” (His wheelhouse is on a lake, in a kayak, on a trail, playing ball at the park.) “Go ahead and get on the treadmill now while they are jumping on the trampoline.”
Epilogue. I did not get on the treadmill, it was time to make dinner. We did make a deal for the next day and I was in love with him again. We discussed outside things to do that were more of a fit for him. And I will keep learning how to use my gentle words to get my needs met.
How might you use more gentle words to get your needs met and Journey to The Good Life?