Yesterday, with my typical feeling of post-work exhaustion, I was starting to make dinner. My husband came home from work, noted I was exhausted and with warmth and compassion offered to help me make dinner, then promptly disappeared, quickly absorbed in some device.
I waited. Nothing. Looked around, crickets. The house had become a tomb. As patience and curiosity gave way to resentment and irritation, I chopped more fiercely and shoved ingredients around the counter. Then I slipped into an old storytelling habit: He doesn’t care that I’m tired, he always puts his needs first, relationships are too hard, and it would be easier to be alone!
According to Terry Real, a marriage and family therapist and bestselling author of “The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work” and “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship, this relationship-sabotaging practice is “unconscious storytelling” — and it happens when you imagine what your partner is thinking or feeling.
Storytelling from your subjective perceptions can escalate or start an argument and distort an issue. Instead, Real teaches people to speak effectively to their perceptions by using a tool known as the feedback wheel, which was first devised by Janet Hurley. This simple, four-sentence method is a way to lean into relational empowerment while communicating your thoughts and feelings.
When you find yourself in a storytelling spiral, pause, remind yourself that you care about the other person, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk.
If they’re willing to listen, use these four statements:
1. “This is what I saw or heard.”
Describe what happened in one sentence. Real encourages “Share only the facts — ones a camera could record. The effectivity key to the feedback wheel is its brevity.”
2. “This is what I made up about it.”
Again only use one sentence to tell the story that is swirling in your brain. This step provides you with the opportunity to share your interpretation of what you heard or saw, and what they mean to you. Additionally, by using the phrase “what I made up,” helps to acknowledge that your perception might be inaccurate. As Real notes, the wonderful thing about step two is that it allows you to own the meaning of an event as your meaning, not the meaning.
3. “This is how I felt.”
Take a moment to focus on your emotions. Then describe them, concisely in one sentence, to your partner. This step asks you to get clear and share a straightforward list of the feelings you experienced
4. “This is what would help me feel better.”
This final statement, Real said, is essential as it is the step that invites the healing. This step allows you to shift from complaint to request, from reacting to wisdom.
Using the feedback wheel with my husband has improved our partnership and reduced my stress. Moreover, using the wheel in my life has improved my communication in all areas including my connection with my parents, my teenage daughters, my friends and colleagues!
As you reflect upon and practice this relationship tool, perhaps you notice that there are areas where you are struggling to practice and you have questions, need support. If yes, working with a therapist in individual therapy or in couples counseling could help. Please reach out and I would be happy to discuss counseling with you.