You know how it feels — somebody gets mad at you, starts pointing a finger and tells you what you should or shouldn't have done. Or they criticize you for not remembering or noticing something.

No doubt you've done the same to someone else, especially your children. After all, we learn from our parents.

Your likely reaction when somebody treats you like this is to stop hearing what they say long before they're done talking. Instead, you listen for an opening so you can say, “Yes, but.” And the confrontation escalates from there.

The reason for such bad feelings is the use of “you” statements, as in “you always” or “you never.” Such conversations can be particularly frequent among midlife folks, because both men and women can be more emotionally sensitive at that time.

How to fix it

Here's how to stop those go-nowhere shouting matches: Use “I” statements.

Let's say your spouse wrote a big check on the joint account and forgot to tell you, so a check bounces.

Your inclination might be to say: “How many times do I have to tell you to let me know when you write a big check? Don't you ever think?”

Your spouse's logical response is to erect a psychological barricade. He or she might respond with: “Yes, but how about a couple of weeks ago when I went to pay for the groceries with my debit card and there was no money in the account? What about that?”

Back and forth you go, hurling accusations and counter-accusations until you give up out of sheer weariness. The result is hard feelings and anger.

But let's take the same scenario, and use “I” statements. You might say: “I wrote a check for some milk replacer a couple of days ago, and the guy at the feed store phoned today to say the check bounced. I felt like a fool.

“When I checked the account, I found you wrote a big check at the grocery store and didn't tell me about it. I hate it when a check of mine bounces, and I'm angry you didn't tell me about that big check.”

Notice everything you said started with I. You stuck to the facts and your feelings about the situation, without pointing the finger at your spouse.

Your spouse is understandably nervous about your anger, but because you didn't point the finger and run he or she down, they don't feel the need to fight back.

As a result, your spouse may say something such as, “I'm sorry, hon. I meant to tell you but I had a crisis and by the time I got home four hours late, I forgot.

“I know money is tight, and how awful it feels to have a check bounce, and I'm really sorry. If there is anything I can do to make up for it, I will.”

Now, the conversation may go back and forth a little more from here, such as talking about how you can avoid bounced checks in the future. Essentially, however, the problem is solved.

You see how that works? Just stick with the facts:

  • This is what happened.
  • This is what I think it means.
  • This is how I feel about it.

When you do that in a conflict situation, it will feel like magic.

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton lectures to groups on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” To learn more call 780/432-5492, e-mail farm@midlife-men.com, or visit www.midlife-men.com.