As they were packing the car from a ski weekend away, Will barked at his wife when she almost knocked over a box that had something fragile in it. Katy got defensive and told Will that he was just a mean person. His response was you’re just too sensitive.
The issue in this scenario was not the squabble. Will reacted when he thought Katy would unknowingly break something he cared about. Katy reacted when she was “barked at”. The bigger issue was how they perceived each other.
Since Katy perceived Will as a mean person, she would routinely perceive him as mean across situations, therefore incapable of change. In the same way, Will perceived Katy as too sensitive across situations, and perceived this attribute as a character flaw.
Will wasn’t essentially a mean person, but he could certainly say mean things. Meanness wasn’t an enduring personality characteristic but instead a verbal behavior that was changeable.
Will’s thought that Katy was too sensitive was also problematic. She was a sensitive person in thoughtful ways as well, but Will was judging her rather than being more mindful of how his words and reactions adversely impacted her.
Judging each other as mean or too sensitive created an impasse in their relationship. Instead, mean statements directed towards anyone—regardless of sensitivity—is problematic and this verbal behavior needs to be changed.