In the process of stabilizing emotionally in recovery, it is normal to experience highs and lows that impact your communication with your loved ones. As you work toward a place of stability and experience times when you feel less secure in your ability to manage the challenges to your sobriety, it can be more difficult to stay calm and measured in your response to conflict.
The good news is that positive communication is a learned skill, and with practice, it is not difficult to master the art of getting your needs met in a way that is respectful of others.
Though the specifics of what is appropriate and what is not in a given conversation will vary from person to person and situation to situation, in general, it is a good idea to avoid the following if you are already having a hard time coming to an agreement.
“Sorry you got your feelings hurt, but…”
“You are acting like a child.”
“Take a breath and come find me when you are feeling more rational.”
Talking down to someone will almost always ignite the other person’s anger. If you are irritated with the direction the conversation is taking or do not feel like the person has a “right” to voice their concerns in this matter, find a way to validate what they are saying while explaining your position.
For example, you might say:
“It was not my intent to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry that happened. Here’s where I’m coming from…”
“Can we talk about this more calmly? I want to understand what you’re saying.”
“Why are you making a big deal out of nothing?”
“Who cares? This is literally the dumbest thing to get upset about.”
“You’re acting crazy.”
When you give bored looks or stare at your phone during a conversation, you are sending loud signals that you do not care at all about what the other person has to say. When you choose not to address the specifics of their concerns and instead dismiss the entire conversation, it will likely result in a full-blown argument every time. Instead, you might say:
“I understand this is important to you. What would you like to do differently?”
“I don’t agree with the changes you’re asking for. Can you tell me why this is so important to you?”
“You have never cared about me!”
“You always think you know everything!”
No one always or never does anything, so leaping into hyperbolic speech will derail the discussion, especially if you are making blanket statements about their behaviors, feelings, or beliefs. Instead, try to stay grounded in the specifics of the discussion. If you feel so uncomfortable that you want to lash out, ask yourself what it is that is bothering you so much. It may be something you can work on with your loved one during the discussion.
“That’s it! I’m done. I’m DONE!”
“Oh, I see. Just throw me in a ditch and leave me to rot!”
“No, I get it. Everything’s my fault. Just say it. EVERYTHING’S MY FAULT.”
Like hyperbole, drama does not help to resolve the argument or help the other person to understand what you are feeling. If you do not feel like you are getting your point across, try a different way of explaining what you need. Otherwise, if you are too overwhelmed to continue, take a break from the conversation, refocus yourself, and come back to the discussion when you are ready.
You could say:
“I don’t think I’m explaining this very well. Let me try to explain a different way.”
“I’m very uncomfortable with the choices you are making, and I wish you could see my side.”
“You are such an @$*%&$!”
“I hate you!”
“I can’t believe I have to deal with you!”
Curse words, threats of any kind, and certainly violence have no place in a productive and healthy discussion. If you feel that your emotions are spiraling out of control, it is a good idea to take a break. Even if it is abrupt, such as turning around and walking away, it is better than if you scream things you do not mean or put your hands on someone.
How do you handle arguments that turn into fights? Do they threaten your sobriety? How do you stay calm and keep your communication productive?