Here's a basic tool

“Give us tools.”

Lots of clients say that when they come in, and I can relate. Keep it simple. Give us something that helps us communicate better. Here’s a classic, which you can find in various forms, by various clinicians/authors:

When you’re upset with your spouse or partner, say these things, in this order:

1. “When you ____________” (Here you describe exactly what the other person did or did not do: pretend you’re a videocamera! Keep it concrete and behavioral, such as “When you walked past me and didn’t say anything…”)

2. “I felt ____________” (Here you use a true feeling word, such as worried, frustrated, mad, sad, confused, irritated, etc. If you have to say “like” or “that,” for example, “I feel like you were disrespecting me,” that’s not a feeling. You do that kind of comment in the third step.)

3. “Because I thought -OR- The impact on me was ____________” (Here you ‘tell your story,’ such as “I thought you were disrespecting me.” It’s the meaning you’re making of the other person’s behavior.)

4. “I’d like you to -OR- I prefer/want ____________” (Here you make a request, such as asking the person to tell you what s/he was really thinking, or doing.)

Here’s an example:

"When you said 'Get it yourself, I’m busy right now,' I felt scared and frustrated, because I thought you were being impatient with me and were sick of me. The impact on me is that I've wanted to avoid you all evening. I'd like to know what you were actually feeling when you said that.”

Another example:

"When you said it's my fault that you feel left out of our family events, I felt really angry and defensive, and I thought you were being unfair, and that you were blaming me. I prefer that we both take ownership of our part in the family dynamic, and not blame each other for how we feel."

This takes practice. It can feel awkward or stilted at first. Take it easy; be patient with yourself as you get used to it. But it’s a great way to approach another person in a way that sets you both up for a good outcome.