Peter Pearson

Recently after a delicious dinner at a favorite restaurant, I was walking back to the car with our nineteen year old daughter Molly, when I spotted a Krispy Kreme donut shop. Like a dog headed for a deserted steak on the kitchen counter, I headed for the glazed goodies with Molly in tow. But like a dog on a short leash, I was yanked back with a surprisingly stern command, “Don't do it, Dad – you don't need those things!”

I tried to convince Molly that one would be OK. When that failed, I tried bargaining and suggested we split one. But this was like selling steak to a vegetarian. Getting desperate, I said if I could just go in the door and take a whiff, I could be happy.

She was serious as a heart attack while telling me “No!”

Talk about role reversals.  I felt like I was three years old being scolded by a bossy parent.

But here's the catch. Molly also likes sugar. But there is one big difference. She feels virtuous when refusing the urge to splurge. But I feel deprived.

That means we have almost opposite reactions when exercising self discipline.

Here's the parallel for your relationship. When your partner uses ineffective communications like finger-pointing, whining, or giving you the cold shoulder, how do you respond? The natural reaction for most people is to feel hurt or distressed. The normal (not healthy) response is to give in to the urge and reply in kind. Get defensive, critical, or do some form of finger pointing yourself.

Resisting this ineffective reflex is can be harder than resisting the lure of Krispy Kreme.

But improving your response is ultimately the best approach to improving your relationship. For example when your partner is being testy (or worse) can you keep in mind that people only do these things when they are feeling some kind of distress and emotional pain? Can you resist the urge to respond with your own defensiveness? Can you be curious, understanding or even apologetic for what you did to ignite their distress?

Taking the higher road may be easier if you remember how you aspire to be when things get tense between you. Perhaps you aspire to be curious, understanding, patient and accepting when the heat is on.

If you can feel virtuous and good about the way you are responding to your partner's idiotic behavior, then you are a winner. You are consistent with your integrity. This is how Molly dealt with the Krispy Kreme situation.

But if improving your reaction creates feelings of victimization and deprivation in you (like my Krispy Kreme model) then change will consist of clenched teeth will power – and will ultimately be doomed to fail.

When faced with a challenging problem, people most often ask, “What do I do about it?” However, more important than any single action is the mindset behind the action. Your reasons for improving your response are actually the best predictor of success.

So when you think of improving your reactions to a recurring problem, do you think of pain and deprivation? Or do you think of being consistent with your higher self?

An even bigger question is, “What would inspire you to put aside your pain and problems to be your best when the heat is on?”

I would truly like to hear your responses to that bigger question. Please use the comment function on this page to share your thoughts on the subject.

Your struggling, donut-deprived coach,

Peter Pearson

About 

Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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