In a relationship, it is not what other people say to us that makes it or breaks a relationship, but rather how we perceive what they say and how we process the messages in our own mind. In trying to resolve a conflict between a husband and wife recently, the wife mentioned something the husband had said which had badly hurt her feelings. She had understood it to mean something awful.
The husband replied, “I didn’t mean it that way — you took it totally out of context”, and went on to explain the real meaning of what he had said. At this, the anger and the resentment which had been there at the beginning of the session was largely reduced, because the wife now saw his comments in a different light.
The lesson this couple learnt is that rather than carrying a chip on your shoulder full of anger and hate, it is a good idea to ask your partner, “What do you mean by that?” or “Why have you done this?”, instead of jumping to the worst possible conclusion and carrying unnecessary pain. Your partner will then either explain why he/she has done or said such a thing or apologise for it. In the worst (and most unlikely) scenario, he/she will say, “Yes, you understood it correctly — I meant to hurt you.” If the latter explanation is correct, you can then continue the conversation by asking, “Why do you want to hurt me?” After discussing the matter properly, you may conclude that your spouse has misunderstood something you have said or done in the past and is reacting to it.
Engaging in a dialogue of this kind will enable you to clear the air and stop the cycle of misunderstanding, finger-pointing and hurting each other’s feelings.
You can begin with a statement like, “How do you mean it?” which does not make grammatical sense, but will get the other person to explain himself. If you keep asking this question you will eventually get to understand what the other person’s intentions were. Human nature is such that we tell others about hurtful things someone has done to us. It would be better if we talked directly to the person concerned and tried to resolve the situation instead of telling the whole world about it.
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the famous biblical conflict between Joseph and his brothers. It started with dreams and jealousy and what was perceived as gossip and ended up with a plan to kill Joseph. To explain how it deteriorated to such an extent, the Torah tells us, “They were not able to speak to him peacefully.” (Genesis 37:4). The lesson in conflict resolution is to talk directly to the person involved. Seek an explanation and try to understand. This method will minimise the conflict or resolve it altogether.