How many times in your relationship have you tried to have a conversation about an important topic when the conversation began veering out of control and over the top? It certainly has happened to me and my spouse often enough that we have adopted a way of handling things by calling a “Do-Over.”
It’s a pretty basic principle, easy to apply, and often has surprising results. Here are the basics:
1. When you recognize that the conversation has gone south, name it: “This is not where I hoped this conversation would go.”
2. Ask for an opportunity to try again: “Can we have a do-over?”
3. Walk out of the room.
4. Walk back in the room and try the conversation but start with “I” statements. For example, “I felt sad when you decided not to come to the family event with me.”
5. Remember your goal is to connect and listen for understanding to the other person’s experience.
My husband and I do this often, but on one occasion a few years ago it had quite a surprising result. New Year’s Eve I had dropped off my son, his girlfriend and her parents at the airport. Our son was working at Notre Dame and studying for his PhD when he met his girlfriend. She and her family were all in Indiana. We had a wonderful visit with all of them and knew that this relationship was moving towards marriage.
The next day, my husband started a conversation about goals for the new year. I responded to him that I wasn’t in an emotional or mental space to set goals for the new year and the conversation ended. He brought it back up a few more times, continuing to engage me in a conversation of possibilities. Finally, I got angry about his continuing to press on this topic and that is when the conversation began to spiral.
I asked him for a do-over and he said yes. I walked out of the room and walked back in ready to tell him how I was feeling about having a goal-setting conversation. Instead, I walked in the room and he immediately said, “How was it dropping Matt off at the airport last night.” I burst into tears and said, “I don’t think he’s ever moving back to California.” We spent the rest of the day reminiscing about our son, his achievements, and grappling with the emotions associated with letting go of our adult son who was well launched into his wonderful life.
The energy in our conflict had been fed by the underlying, unspoken feelings around our son. When we began talking about that, we were connected, close and were able to support and comfort one another.
It was probably the most meaningful New Year’s Day I ever experienced.