Most of us know all too well how it feels when someone “takes things personally”. It’s frustrating! We don’t get to focus on and finish what we are saying!
As an example, I was coaching a couple earlier today. Their conversation turned into a fight and they both felt very hurt by their partner’s words and outbursts. Toward the end of our coaching session, the guy recognized that he had taken what she said quite personally. He said, “She’s right in saying I make what she says about me. When she tells me she’s upset because I don’t listen to her, I immediately feel ashamed. I hate that feeling, so I start in with the excuses and the defensive BS”.
Here’s an example from another couple, Mina and Orson.
Mina: What I’m trying to tell you is how much it hurt me when you laughed at me in front of our friends at dinner last night.
Orson: I was not laughing at you! Why would you even say that?
Mina: I’m not trying to start a fight; I just want you to know that you laughing like that had me feel like you don’t have my back when we’re with other people.
Orson: It doesn’t matter what I do, I just can’t do it right for you, can I? I get so little respect from you anyway … I don’t even know why I’m surprised!
In this interaction, Mina is trying to convey something difficult and important to Orson. He takes it personally. How can you tell? He reacts first with defensiveness (“I was not laughing …”). Then, he turns the conversation away from her original topic to the topic of how he doesn’t get enough respect. In other words, he took it personally.
In our humble opinion, taking things personally is one of the most insidious and detrimental patterns any of us can have in relationship.
How the pattern shows up
Taking things personally can show up in an infinite number of ways. Sometimes you’re the one taking things personally, sometimes it’s the person you are interacting with and sometimes it’s both of you.
Here are examples we’ve heard throughout our years of coaching:
She shared something about her day with her partner. He turned the topic on to himself and started talking about his experience that day.
He went on a date and enjoyed himself. The next day he sent his date a text but got no response. He immediately thought to himself, “I knew she didn’t like me. She probably thinks I’m too old for her; I never get a second date”.
Her boss said, “We really need to shore up our numbers this quarter”. She felt a knot in her stomach and immediately thought, “I knew she had it out for me; I’m going to lose my job”.
He initiated sex with his wife. She was not in the mood and asked for a rain check. He said, “Why don’t you love me anymore?”
She wanted to find a solution to an issue with her partner. She started by saying, “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about”. His first response was, “Now what did I do wrong?”
Shutting down communication
When we take things personally, we shut down the space where communication can happen. Look at the last bullet point above where a woman tries to start a conversation by saying, “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about”. She’s trying to open a space for communication about something that’s important to her. She’s hoping for an affirmative response, like, “Sure, what is it?”, so she can proceed with her sharing. In all likelihood, she’s feeling a bit vulnerable in asking to talk about something.
In this case, her partner instead shuts down the space she’s trying to open. When he says, “Now what did I do wrong?” you can tell he’s already triggered and expecting to be criticized. Which means he’s not really open to listening to what she’s trying to share. It’s akin to someone shutting the door on you when you come knocking.
If this happens repeatedly, it’s not just frustrating, it discourages open communication, which is absolutely essential to loving, effective relationships.
On the other hand, NOT taking things personally is a powerful gift to give your partner and to your relationship.
Keeping communication space open
We once had a woman in our workshop who said, “The sexiest thing ever is when my partner just listens … no reaction, just listening … especially when I’m worked up”.
There is something wonderfully safe and soothing about a partner who doesn’t react when listening. When your partner offers you the space of reaction-free listening, you get a bouquet of gifts. You get to:
Follow and finish your train of thought.
Express your feelings in safe space.
Work out your own solutions.
Feel valued and respected by your partner.
Keep the space open for continued communication.
The chance to go deeper.
(In contrast, just think when your partner reacts poorly and takes your share personally. How much do you want to keep talking? How deep do you want to go?)
We have a mini-course for that
If you’d like to move beyond reacting and taking things personally, we have a mini-workshop designed for you. You’ll learn several practical strategies to not take things personally, and instead remain calm, present, and engaged. We’ll show you what we do in our relationship to minimize negative reactions and eliminate the cycle of taking things personally. All in 90 minutes, from your couch!
You even get access to the replay afterwards, in case you can't make the live event time. Click below to get registered (it's very affordable).
LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more or contact us, visit www.loveworkssolution.com.