Cynthia was feeling stressed. Between work, kids and maintaining the home, there was never enough time. Her partner Ron sensed her strain and decided to help by painting the kitchen. Cynthia came into the kitchen and questioned where the tarps were. Ron said he didn’t need tarps—if the paint spattered, he would wipe it up or scrape it off the kitchen countertop. Cynthia said she had never seen a professional painter not use tarps. Ron said he was a careful painter. Cynthia said that he wasn’t a professional painter and even professionals used tarps. Escalation ensued with Ron refusing to paint.
Cynthia could be judgmental and Ron could be defensive. These tendencies certainly played out in this situation. We redid the interaction in our session with Cynthia asking Ron to use tarps, without judgment. Ron could agree to do so or agree to continue painting without the tarps. If he refused to use the tarps, Cynthia had the option of doing the painting herself or hiring a professional painter.
We moved the initial escalation into a discussion with Cynthia expressing her preference and Ron expressing his decision. What’s important isn’t the outcome of whether Ron used tarps or not, but their ability to have a respectful discussion.