Funny enough, one of my favorite things to do with my partner is ride in the car. Anywhere, everywhere; the longer the better. The ride gives us ample opportunity to talk and enjoy each other’s company with minimal distractions. However, one day it also proved to be an opportunity to practice my RO DBT skills. As my partner and I drove up the beautiful and scenic highways of New Jersey (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you know) I shared with him a situation from work which was bothering me. He responded with a calm, matter-of-fact comment, stating,
Him: “I can understand why you felt that way, but I don’t agree with it.”
BOOM. I felt it – right in the middle of my chest. That wonderful thing we call our edge. I was annoyed, confused, and definitely felt misunderstood and criticized.
Me: “What?! What do you mean you don’t agree? You just said you understand why I felt that way. Then how can you not agree with it? What does that even mean?”
Him: “It means that I don’t see it that way. But I can understand why you might. I wouldn’t have taken it that way, or responded the way you did. I don’t agree with that way of responding.”
Me: “Well, then let me explain it again to you.”
Now I felt it even more. Tension, heat, intensity. I could feel myself talking with more pressure. My volume increased as I explained the situation again. Excellent – now with this new, animated, passionate depiction he would clearly agree with me.
Him: “Ok. I still feel the same way.”
That was it. I was so frustrated. I immediately sensed my urge to “push back” by shutting down, scowling, and giving the silent treatment. As I felt myself move towards these actions, I heard my RO voice (ROV) speak to me with kindness and curiosity.
ROV: “What’s this all about? Is this part of your value? To try and bully your partner into agreeing with you? What is it you’re trying to signal?”
Me: “I’m trying to signal that he does not understand me since he doesn’t agree with me!”
It hit me here. I RECOGNIZED I was secretly trying to control him; by EXAMINING my signaling I realized I was trying to get him to agree with me by pushing back.
ROV: “That’s interesting…where did you ever get the idea that someone can’t understand you unless they agree with you? What’s there to learn from that?”
While these self-enquiry questions came into my mind, I also decided that this “push back” was not part of my VALUES; I was not proud of the way I was behaving. I also recognized that I want my partner to know that disagreeing with me is okay; I also want to be open to feedback that may shake up my way of seeing the world since I know this is the only way to learn and grow. So I practiced the rest of my skill of flexible-mind REVEALs. I activated my social safety system by using my Big Three +1 and ENGAGING with my partner by outing myself.
Me: Hey…so I want to share that I have an urge to shut down and give you the silent treatment because you didn’t agree with me. But I don’t want to be that way…and as I say this I don’t want you to soothe me or validate me. I just want to let you know what’s going on for me right now. I also did a little self-enquiry and recognized I have some belief that if someone doesn’t agree with me they don’t understand me. I need to do more work on that, but I thought it was interesting. But I really value our car rides and our conversations, and I want you to know I appreciate that you can disagree with me and share your thoughts. So thank you.
Immediately after sharing this, I still felt some tension yet I also felt myself soften. I knew there was still that edge I had to explore, but I had a little giggle to myself too. Saying aloud that I wanted to give the silent treatment was kind of silly, maybe even a bit embarrassing. I knew it wasn’t part of my values and now I couldn’t do it since it was out in the open! My partner thanked me for my reveal and added that he enjoys our car rides too and was glad we wouldn’t have to sit in silence the rest of the trip. I used time later in my week to reflect on the feedback he was giving me using ADOPTs, and to LEARN from my self-enquiry with my self-enquiry partner. While the practice of being radically open is not easy, it continues to help me learn and grow as a person and as a partner. And sure makes the car rides extra interesting!
About the author: Lindsay Johnson, LPC, ACS, MSEd
Lindsay is a therapist at Rowan University, NJ, who works with college students diagnosed with conditions of over-control. She is passionate about RO DBT, sports, yoga, and most things related to New Jersey.