Baby-Step Goal #5: Learn from my Dog, Phase II

Bark! Rap! Rap! Rap! Bark!

Hush Bug, that’s enough.

Perhaps this entry should be called “Learn from my Uncle”, but it also comes from my dog.

During one of the best visits ever, my sage uncle stayed with me for a week. We traipsed all through this wild city and had great food and deep conversation. We also spent quite a lot of time with my dog and my uncle showed me how to start listening better:

My dog would bark, and I would get upset. My uncle would laugh and say “He’s only doing what he knows how to do. If he barks and you yell, he thinks you’re barking too, so he doesn’t know it is wrong. His adrenaline is too high, and he can’t hear you. Calmly speak to him in between barks and he’ll get the message”.

Not only does this work with dogs, it works with humans.

About six months ago I got in a pretty painful argument with my partner. I made a poor decision and acted hastily, and it almost caused a breakup. While I won’t go into the details of the argument, the results were heart-wrenching. My partner’s reaction to pain is to yell; mine is to retreat. He went off, started yelling and it started escalating. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I kept quiet and let him speak his mind.

In between “barks” I would calmly speak to him, saying I understood why he was angry and I never meant to make him feel the way he did. When he started barking again, I would stop speaking, and wait until there was a break. Pretty soon, my partner noticed something: I wasn’t barking.

I managed to hold my cool and exercise the same practice I did with my dog, and it brought an argument from boiling point down to a low simmer. I never once said “stop yelling (barking)” or belittled his feelings. I accepted ownership for my own actions and didn’t place blame, but I did acknowledge how he was feeling.

In another discussion a week following that argument, we talked about how we both reacted. He said he noticed that when I get upset, my inclination is to listen, not to bark. He also said he really appreciated that I was (a) not willing to fuel the fire and (b) I actually did calm him down.

We are by no means perfect, but we are willing to work at the big stuff and the small stuff.

Dear Uncle…thanks for the life hack!

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