Relationships are hard

They can have painful experiences. Those painful experiences from past experiences can cast shadows into our current relationships. People are complicated messes. Even, perhaps especially, the people we love. 

Often, when I'm working with a couple I will see a phenomenon I call "Hall Pass." Hallpass

When they are feeling their loved ones behavior is painful, they will give themselves a hall pass to do bad behavior. Let's say that Rose approaches Jack with something that has been bothering her. She starts out well matching facts and feelings. She follows the six rules of communication.


But then things go sideways. Jack starts talking about this one time she could have shared the floating door with him and he starts to raise his voice…

…and he starts to raise his voice…

How is she to respond? Well, she can yell and be mean and say whatever feels good in the moment. That's the power of a hall pass. You get to do what you want because you feel threatened.

Of course, that's incredibly damaging to relationships. It feels safe in the moment but in reality, it's destructive and painful to relationships. 

So how should she respond?

Well, first of all, it is good to recognize that Jack's behavior or not acceptable. She can tell him that it's not OK for him to be yelling at her or calling him names.

If can't control himself, she can tell him that she is not going to talk to him until they can talk in a productive way.

She might say, "Jack, I don't think we're being very productive right now, let's take an hour to calm down. Could we talk in one hour?"

She might say, "Jack, I don't appreciate being yelled at and I'd like to solve this problem with you but I can't be in this conversation if you're going to call me names or yell. Can we take a few moments to step back and calm down?"

What if Jack isn't doing those things but Rose can see that he's bothered by her statements. He's doing that thing he does with this jaw line when he's upset.

He's not violating the six rules. He's not calling her names. He's not even yelling. But she knows! Because she knows him!.

So she starts yelling. She gives herself a hall pass.

He could respond as listed above. He could even admit his frustration with her and he could kindly point out that while he is frustrated, he's not violating any of their ground rules for communication.

In this scenario, Rose is caught in a place where she's reacting to his emotions and not his actions. That's a dangerous and damaging place to be. 

I think almost everyone knows the right and wrong way to communicate. I find that most people just give themselves a hall pass when they feel distressed or in pain.

Please note that saying, "let's take a step back" is not the same as just shutting down to avoid the pain. One is intentionally taking a step back to move the relationship forward, the other is done to avoid discomfort and for the benefit of the individual only.

That's the rub in relationships (and I know there are plenty of people who disagree with me on this) but a healthy relationship requires an unfaltering commitment to what is best for the relationship. We have to set aside our own individual fears and pain and engage our partner in a healthy manner. 

Here is a list of some ways you might engage while keeping safe boundaries and move the relationship forward.

1. Follow good rules of communication

2. Do what is right regardless of what the other person is doing.

3. Do not call names or attack the other person. 

4. Deal with what happened and how you felt about it.

5. If necessary, take a step back but set a time to re-engage the topic.


Above all, don't allow your behavior to be dictated by someone else. Do what's right regardless of what they do.

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