“I am always helping you and you never help me.” Sound familiar? In the heat of the moment, always and never seem to roll off our tongues like butter, with a slippery-slope of a result: a total meltdown moment between partners. We feel betrayed, misunderstood and misrepresented at best. At worst, it’s a disloyalty to our very spirit, our soul, our inherent goodness and intentions for each other.
What causes “always” and “never” conversation? Like all things in relationships, it’s complicated. Stay with me as I explain…
1. When we feel unheard, we will tend to ramp up our words, either by yelling louder, being critical or by using “all or nothing” thinking like always and never. They are like verbal battering rams that force our point across when we don’t feel our mate is responding to what we feel is an injustice.
2. Using all or nothing words comes from feeling hurt and then retaliating in some way. “I always help you and you never help me.” What is this essentially saying? “I always do everything for you and you never do anything for me.” There may also be deeper feelings of being unlovable or inadequate that we are defending against so we elevate ourselves into righteous indignation and goodness to hide our sense of worthlessness.
3. Always and never conversations are also about wanting to feel good about ourselves and dumping our negative feelings onto our partner. We feel righteous, good and superior and the other person becomes inferior, selfish and uncaring. This may be a defense against being truly intimate. The more we are able to devalue the other person the less we have to need them.
4. Always and never conversations are unproductive because they always create defensiveness and never form connection (pun intended). What we really want is to get our point across to our partner and create a stronger bond in the process. Always and never conversations are negative no matter how we slice it. The goal is to reach agreement and how can anyone agree to such absolutes?
So then what would replace this ineffective conversation with a more positive process? What works best is an even more measured way to express what we feel and ultimately what we need and want. So how do we accomplish that?
1. During an argument, call attention to the use of always and never by our partner and request that they tell you specifically what it is that they want from you instead.
2. Understand what feeling is being communicated. Is your partner feeling unloved, ignored and defiant? Try to see the emotion of what is going on behind the words and ask if you don’t know…saying something like, “What are you feeling right now that is upsetting you?”
3. Direct the conversation towards why it is that they feel you don’t care about them or their needs. Don’t be defensive as you listen to their words but repeat it back to them to make sure you really heard what they said.
4. Make an effort to objectively see what it is that your partner is trying to tell you.
5. Focus on the idea that both of you are responsible for the problem and both of you are also responsible for the solution.
Always and never conversations only escalate the problem and cut off the ability for the other person to understand what is being communicated. It is also in its own way a form of abuse because the other person has no way out of feeling bad. If we suggest to our partner what they can do next time or state what it is that that we need and want, or talk about how hurt we feel, then a dialogue can be formed. Always remember to never say always and never…and you’ll avoid the wrong turn down a one-way street to relationship hell.