I’ve read several articles online recently about the negative impacts of yelling at our children. From this experience of a mom and her son to this mom’s challenge to stop yelling at her kids for 365 days, I’m getting the message–yelling at our children means they stop listening to us.
In my experience as a couples therapist, yelling isn’t just something that parents do, it’s something partners do too. When we yell, we raise our voices to raise the impact of our words. Shouting louder means the other person will hear us better, right? Wrong. Yelling means the other person stops listening. Yelling means the other person shuts down or becomes defensive. Yelling means the other person will likely yell back, and then we ourselves will stop listening. These may not be the intended outcomes, but they’re often what happens when yelling happens.
Of course, yelling isn’t just how we’re communicating but also what we’re communicating. The words we use when we yell are just as important as our volume and tone, and we can feel “yelled” at even if the other person didn’t raise his/her voice. In her book, Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love, Nancy Dreyfus offers suggestions for phrases that convey the feelings underneath the words we often yell at our partner. Instead of, “You never listen to me!” or “I’m finished talking to someone who doesn’t care about what I have to say!” she offers softer, alternative messages like “You don’t have to agree with me, but it hurts when you don’t take me seriously.”
Here are some strategies that can help you pause, pay attention to your tone and volume, and think more clearly about the message you’re trying to convey:
Take a deep breath
Ask for a brief timeout from the conversation
Focus on qualities you love or appreciate about your partner rather than focusing on the things that are driving you crazy
What kind of difference would it make in your relationship if you matched both your message and your tone to the softer emotions that underlie the hard ones– empathy instead of criticism, disappointment instead of frustration, fear instead of negativity? What kind of difference would it make if you stopped yelling, instead striving to truly be heard and to truly hear your partner’s response?
Instead of yelling, let’s try to talk to our loved ones like they’re really people we love.