HOW TO RESPOND WHEN YOUR PARTNER OVER-REACTS TO OR MISINTERPRETS SOMETHING YOU SAY OR DO
It’s frustrating when your partner’s reaction to something you did or said seems out of proportion or, even worse, incomprehensible. A common response is to try and show them why what they are doing is wrong. This usually doesn’t work very well.
Here’s an alternative strategy you can try:
- Show interest and care in their experience, rather than being defensive or immediately trying to correct their “mistake”
- Enquire about how what you said or did “landed” with your partner – be willing to listen to their experience of the interaction
- Only then try and correct their perception – i.e. clarify what your intention was, how you were trying to come across etc
- If your partner insists on their interpretation/perception you can:
- Be open to the possibility that is you who is mistaken – that there are feelings you have about this issue/situation that you weren’t consciously aware of that nevertheless came across to your partner
- Take a Time Out and both of you reflect on whether there is more going on here than you have been aware of so far
- Ask that your partner accept your intentions as the basis for the interaction to go forward. This sidesteps the issue of whose perception is accurate.
- Talk VULNERABLY (not accusingly) about the impact of their refusal to accept your good intentions. For example “When you insist that you know better than I do what I meant, it reminds me of not being able to reach my mother”
No strategy will work 100% of the time if your partner is triggered, but talking in this way makes it much more likely that you can bring them back into relationship with you and, eventually, have your reality acknowledged.