Relationships, Part 44 : The First Foul: Defamation

defamationDefamation is the first foul to look out for when you are attempting to have a constructive conversation. It often comes in the opening salvo, right when a serious discussion is initiated. It gets the partners off to a terrible start, and things just go downhill from there.
Defamation is a false statement that disfigures the character of your partner. It occurs when you take normal complaints and turn them into pronouncements about your partner’s personality.

You might have this normal (but, trivial) complaint: “I like it when the toilet paper is put it so that it feeds from the top of the roll, not the bottom. It tears more easily when it feeds from the bottom and all I get are these small pieces. Would you please put it so it feeds from the top?”
If you utilize defamation, the complaint goes like this: “You’re always putting the toilet paper so it feeds from the top. You never listen to me. You know I don’t like it that way, but you do it regardless. You are selfish and inconsiderate.”

Defamation imputes something horrendous about your partner’s character and distorts reality for dramatic effect. It comments on your partner’s nature, rather than his deeds.
Listen for a few key words and tricks to spot defamation.

“You’re always… You never…”

No one always or never does anything. Never. There are always exceptions to every rule. (Even the rule that there are exceptions to every rule, I suppose.) You’re not following your partner around constantly, how do you know how he installs the toilet paper roll when he’s at work or at someone else’s house? Maybe he used to do it your way when he was a kid, until he found a method he thought worked better? Since you don’t know, you may be saying it that way because you’re trying to pick a fight.

“You never listen … you know…”

Just because he doesn’t change his behavior when you ask him to doesn’t mean he isn’t listening. He may not have heard you or understood you. When you taught him the correct way of installing toilet paper, did you ask for feedback so that you could check that he learned what you tried to teach him? How do you know whether he knows or not? He may have his own reasons for doing it his way and never got a chance to explain it to you. Furthermore, his listening and knowing are subjective experiences, out of reach of your capabilities.

“You are…”

Defamation often uses the word to be in many of its declinations: You are, he is, we are, they are, you were, he was, they were. The state of being is not a static condition. Whenever we use this verb, we distort reality to a degree. People are just not as constant as the verb suggests. Your partner knows this about himself. He has far more experience with himself than you have of him, so don’t kid yourself into thinking you know what he does about toilet paper rolls better than he does. This is one argument you cannot win.

If you use defamation, you will get into an argument, or worse. He just might decide it’s not worth talking to you. If the discussion is going to be about his character, he might commit some fouls of his own. He might assault your character, become defensive, stonewall, or he might get disgusted that you can’t reasonably assert yourself without resorting to an attack.
If you want to avoid making this foul, talk about his behavior, not his self. Talk only about what you know, the things you are an expert on. Talk about just how annoying that toilet paper roll can be and why you cannot just switch it around your way when you sit down.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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