My spouse recently wanted to know some details about an airbnb reservation my mother had made, which we will be sharing later this year. My spouse and I have formulated this post together. In my opinion, this is a (partially) written example of a dynamic that repeats between my spouse and I on a somewhat regular basis.

My spouse contacted my mother to ask for a link to the reserved place since my mother only posted a screenshot. My mother replied saying she didn't have one, but could get one once she was on her computer tomorrow.

After that both of them went through ~5 rounds of messaging back and forth, my spouse stating she is able to wait until my mother can get to her computer tomorrow because it's hard to explain how to get to the link on a mobile phone, and my mother saying she does not have the link, doesn't know how to access it on her mobile phone, but would be able to provide one later. The exchange ended with my spouse stating:

Yes I said repeatedly that I can wait.

My spouse anxiously brought the exchange to my attention last night a few minutes after it completed. My spouse says she was wondering: "Why she [mother] kept texting me [spouse] to say that she cannot relay the reservation information right away via her phone after I [spouse] told her she [mother] can wait until she [mother] can use her computer."

When I saw the exchange, I commented that her use of the word "repeatedly" in the final message was unnecessary and should have been left out, as it might sound rude.

After I said this my spouse became extremely upset at me and my mother. My spouse believes her word choice of the word "repeatedly" would not be seen as offensive. She is upset at me for "siding with my mother." I did not even know there were sides in this conversation, as it doesn't seem like an argument to me, assuming that last sentence doesn't start something. I am trying to prevent future conflict by promoting more diplomatic language.

My spouse is upset with my mother, because "she thinks that my mother considers her an impatient person demanding a fast answer" (due to the fact that my mother continued responding rather than waiting until she was at a computer).

When I look at the entire conversation though, I just see some poor communication and attempted persistence that did not pay off, by a distracted senior citizen who perhaps doesn't usually distinguish between a screen shot and a link, but is trying to find a stop-gap response that might help sooner rather than later.

My spouse somewhat regularly perceives grievances against her (by other parties), and when I suggest a way of understanding the situation such that there is no conflict, this is seen as me siding with the other party. I want to de-escalate conflicts, or show that there simply may not be any conflict. I want to suggest what the other side's perspective might be, and why they may be innocent. I think she wants sympathetic anger from me where I become part of the conflict and condemn the other party for the perceived grievance. I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Her response to this is that I am insensitive to her emotions.

One possible solution, and something I did not really do with respect to the text exchange, is to repeat back to my spouse her perceived grievance, let her know that I understand her perspective, and only then proceed to outline why there might not be any malice on the side of the other party. In the moment, I usually feel like she has done well more than enough stating her case against the other party, and I hesitate to reinforce it because I fear doing so will harden her conviction in the grievance.

Is there a better way I should approach this situation such that I can de-escalate conflicts without being seen as taking the other side?

  • 1
    Hey coolerheads (and spouse)! While your question of better approaching this situation so that you can de-escalate conflict without being seen as taking the other side is a good one for this site, the other questions in your question body are not. Whether or not you are right or justified are questions that aren't a good fit for this site, as they are not about interpersonal skills (behaviors you use to interact with others), and aren't answerable except with opinions. So I've edited those out, as well as summarized the entire conversation, to make your post shorter and more readable.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Apr 18, 2021 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


Treading more carefully

As I've been supporting people in difficult situation and often in emotional state of high stress, we've been taught a technique called Active Listening that consists in approaching someone with a given problem through careful listening and refraining to give any advice. In this technique the goal is to guide thinking through questions, and avoid to give plain opinions.

For example you might ask your spouse, after seeing the exchange: "Why did you use the word repeatedly?" or even directly "I can see you're angry, why is that?" and try to listen the best you can her own reason and reasoning.

You can also point out with questions things you think she could reflect on like the supposed antagonism between her and your mother, such as a question stating "Why do you think there is a conflict?".

I advised the same when it was asked if you can validate feelings without validating the cause of the feelings. I've noted there some key points in validating the other person's feelings without agreeing on the cause of them e.g. using forms such as "I understand you might feel angry about the situation".

I've been experiencing this technique avoids a lot of possible friction and often helps the other person feel more calm. After which they might ask your opinion and you might give it, but only when you've been prompted to and so that you know the other person is ready to receive it.

Long term solutions

I'm in a similar situation in the sense that I have a partner that tends to put people in boxes of "Good person" or "Evil person". This has caused a lot of trouble and long lasting conflicts between him and some members of his family, and also in the past made him give full confidence to people he regretted he did.

I do not have a miracle pill for this, I think I will to an extent have to deal with it for quite a long time, but I've also a friend who told me she got good results with psychotherapy for a similar recurring couple problem.

Although I'm aware suggesting that to your spouse could be difficult, if it becomes a difficulty in your relationship, you could imagine going to couple therapy together, and let the therapist best judge how to make you both progress with that difficulty as my friend did.


It seems like your spoused asked you for help interpreting your mother's behaviour, and you responded by criticising something that she wrote. It's not surprising to me that this could make somebody defensive, but perhaps I am misunderstanding the context?

If you did feel it was important to make your spouse aware of the problematic wording, I think you might have more success framing things as a matter of compatibility rather than a matter of right/wrong or correct/incorrect.

When you stated that the word 'repeatedly' should have been left out, you're kind of claiming that your spouse was objectively wrong. You could try framing it in terms of possible outcomes perhaps:

I wonder if [mother] would have interpreted that as rude, even though it wasn't meant that way.

This way all you are stating is that something about the transmission-interpretation process between your spouse and your mother might have gone wrong, and drawing spouse's attention to the text, without taking a side as to who is correct. If this is happening in other cases, you can pivot the conversation to considering another party's point of view by saying something like:

I wonder what Other Party thinks is going on here.

Also, I think it's important to realise that people are not always looking for a solution to a problem, sometimes they just want to vent and be listened to. You can ask explicitly:

Is this venting or problem solving? or Are you looking for solutions here? Then your spouse might say yes, they want help solving a conflict and then you can speculate on another party's motivations in the context of helping your spouse solve a problem rather than getting to the truth of who is right. If they say no, then don't offer solutions. There's no point: Even if you want to, your spouse will be unlikely to take it on board anyway. You can always bring up at a later time, when emotions may not be running hot, that you had some lingering thoughts about the issue. If your spouse never wants to hear it, then you can either accept it or raise an issue from your own point of view, that you feel that you want to talk about it (and make sure to use "I statements").

Good luck!

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