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I have three toddlers whose shoes I have to put on and take off several times a day. Two of them have shoes that I can put on and take off very easily. The third has shoes I struggle with every day, several times a day. So I mentioned casually to my wife that we should never buy shoes like that again. I assumed that she had the same issues with them and would simply agree with me.

It turns out my wife likes the shoes very much and also uses a different technique to put the shoes on, so she doesn't struggle as I do. My casual remark that in my mind was the equivalent of "we are running out of milk" was to her a personal insult, because she bought the shoes and loves them also for their aesthetic qualities. How could I have communicated better and avoided the - perhaps unnecessary - fight that ensued over this remark?

Additional information: I learned a new technique to put on toddler shoes.

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    – Ael
    Dec 17 '20 at 18:47
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    Just how serious of a fight was this? Is this unusual to have such a fight? I think how this is answered depends on whether this is a rare occurrence or perhaps the symptom of some deeper problems.
    – DaveG
    Dec 18 '20 at 20:47
  • How did this result in a fight? I feel like that's actually the most important detail, but it's missing from the question. When you learned that the shoes were important to her and that she was hurt by your comment, did you apologize empathetically? Dec 19 '20 at 1:08
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    First of all it should be clear who should change most to avoid this situation again. You by not saying that again? Or she by not (over) reacting to such a comment? Might sound harsh but I feel this is very important.
    – puck
    Dec 19 '20 at 15:53
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I've done the same "mistake" lots of time in the past, and often got the same results as you. Then I realized my blunder: I had forgotten to present the remark as just that (a simple remark that should lead to an improvement for us), and not a "personal attack". FWIW: I believe some people react like that because they feel like we said: "I can't do that because of the way the shoes are built. Shoes are giving me a hard time. You bought the shoes. Then, it's your fault." That's why I called it a "personal attack". They really feel like we put the blame on them, and find them guilty. When I realized that, I modified my approach.

Now, when facing the same problem, I go by asking about my problem. i.e.

geeez! I always have [ this problem / issue ] when doing this. Do you also face the same problem?

If the answer is NO:

can you show me / explain to me please?

If the answer is YES, then discuss the problem with your SO and find a solution together.

Not only you're not saying anything bad about your wife or her purchase, but you give her a chance to share something with you and be helpful. Never had an issue after that :)

To me, questioning is also a good technic in many situations, not only with your SO.

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  • And what about the case where the partner does the 'thing' the same way but either doesn't see it as problematic and/or puts up with it because the perceived benefits (that the OP may not share) make up for it? I understand that at least you've opened up a channel of communication, but the solution may not be as direct as your answer suggests. Dec 18 '20 at 3:06
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    @Lamar : it happens... And your ego is bruised (mine was). Then I realized that I could keep the communication channel open : "I'm not skillful enough for this/doing it like you. So I'm looking for a way out." And when (if) she would ask why I switch shoes : "you remember how difficult it was for me ? Couldn't manage it. That's why I changed.". Still about my problem and no direct or indirect accusation.
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 18 '20 at 5:01
  • My favorite approach to feedback is to make it about me. If you want a conversation, you need to be careful about the opener: if the other party starts on the defensive, the conversation is usually derailed from the start. By making it about yourself, your issues, your emotions, there are much less changes for the other party to feel attack; instead, often times, they feel like you are asking them for help... even if in the end you're really complaining about something they did. Dec 19 '20 at 17:09
  • Thank you. I think this strategy would have played much better.
    – Karlokick
    Dec 21 '20 at 8:16
  • Thanks, glad it seems good to you :) Just in case, my answer to @Lamar 's comment could also be a bonus, in case you need a 'plan B'
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 21 '20 at 8:48
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While I like the answers already posted, I think there is yet another angle to identify sentences that could be problematic.

You had initial struggle with a problem, you find yourself a strategy to face it that is to get rid of the shoes. Since you can't take this decision alone, there, you consult your wife, which is reasonable.

If she doesn't react well I believe it's purely because you used a "we should" form. While you may not have given that meaning to it, taken at face value, when you say "we should/must do this" you imply some authority to decide and she have no say on the decision, it's what's going to happen.

I've learned through non-violent communication, a communication framework that tend to avoid these kind of formulations and implications, that you have several alternatives, some already mentioned: starting with a real observation first "It's a struggle to put these shoes on" that's close to your observation of running out of milk. That is optional step, but providing context can be important to avoid misunderstandings.

According to the same framework, the stress point is on expressing the request, however. Even if you keep to your strategic decision, and choose a direct path to express that without prior observation, you can use something that's a not demand: the distinction between request and demand being on giving a real opportunity to refuse what's asked for. So for example: "Could we avoid buying these shoes again, please?" and continue on the conversation when she expresses a "no".

Sometimes, people can still interpret your questions as not giving choice and it can be hard to convey that meaning, but to me, this have been drastically successful in reducing conflicts, in many areas of my interpersonal life.

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  • "when you say "we should/must do this" you imply some authority" That may be inferred, but all that statement is saying is "I have an opinion on this matter that I'm sharing". Dec 19 '20 at 1:33
  • @Acccumulation That opinion have something special about authority. When one says "I don't like this movie" I would agree it's an opinion on a matter you're sharing. When one says "You should do this" since that's pretty much saying directly what are the duties, I would say the authority is implied for this particular opinion to have any value.
    – Arthur Hv
    Dec 19 '20 at 4:50
  • To clarify, we're born free out of our thinking and movement. What binds us with duty is all about morality and superior authority we accept to follow. Sharing thoughts on that, is admitting having a say on someone's personal agenda i.e. authority.
    – Arthur Hv
    Dec 19 '20 at 5:01
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To me, there's a difference between disliking a thing in general, and disliking a thing because of a particular aspect of it. It takes some time to recognize, but usually I can focus on the particular aspect of something I dislike. So, when I make remarks about things I dislike, I talk about the particular aspect I dislike instead of saying I dislike the entire thing. I've noticed this helps me get responses from people that are more tailored to the 'problem' that's causing me to dislike something.

For example, instead of saying 'we should never have a family party again', I discuss with my mother the things about family parties that make them horrible for me, and sometimes she has some good advise to make the next party more bearable. At other times, she might not have solution or even disagree this is a problem, but it's definitely bringing down the amounts of fights we have over family parties.

In the future, ask yourself 'what am I disliking about this thing', and make your remarks about the particular thing you dislike instead of the general thing. This helps other people to understand what you're struggling with, and gives them an opportunity to focus on remediating the actual problem, instead of focusing on defending the things they like about the thing you're disliking.

So, instead of 'we should never buy these types of shoes again', your casual remark would be 'these shoes are annoyingly difficult to put on' (add an expletive or two if you need to). After all, that's what you dislike about them, not their aesthetic or color or how they make your child look. This would have given your wife a better clue as to what you're disliking, and a way to engage the actual problem and teach you how to put them on properly. Once that's done, you can butter her up a bit by saying that you appreciate her help and you do think the shoes look good on your kid!


Remember: it takes two for this approach to work. I can give you an idea as to how I've handled similar situations in the past and tell you it worked out for me, but you need your wife to be in on this as well. Perhaps your best bet would be to communicate with your wife about this and ask her the same question you asked us. She might give a different answer :)

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