It happens all the time. Well-meaning people hurt their partner by letting that angry thought leak out, or inadvertently phrasing something tactlessly, or fudging the truth only to have it leap out and bite them both down the road.
No one ever bats a thousand in the communication game. We can do better, though. Here’s a handy guideline that Sheri and I developed for assessing if a communication is appropriate. We call it the KRUCH rule—and, yes, it’s a communication crutch for people to lean on. (We couldn’t get the spelling right, but at least it matches phonetically.)
KRUCH, as in Kind, Respectful, Useful, Constructive, Honest. Kind.
Sure, we get angry. Sure, the impulse rises to put our partner in their place, to show them just how flawed they are. We can probably score a bulls-eye, too: people in intimate relationships have an unerring sense of their partner’s vulnerabilities.
Here’s some simple advice. Don’t do it. Ever. There’s more than enough cruelty in the world without your adding to it. Take that anger to your pillow or your therapist.
Respectful. You can communicate disrespect in three ways—through the words you use, the tone you adopt, or your active disregard (ignoring your partner is disrespectful). When you do this, not only are you disrespecting him, you’re also disrespecting yourself. You’re the one who chose to be with him, after all. If he’s not worthy of your respect, what does that say about you?
Useful. This one’s a biggie. Let’s say your partner runs out of gas and calls you from the road. You say, “Are you going to get gas?” This is not useful. What was she going to do, sit there in the emergency lane forever? Worse, it’s pretend useful. What you’re really saying is, “You were an idiot not to check the gas gauge.” If your words aren’t useful, there’s probably a hostile message in there somewhere.
Constructive. Even if you’re absolutely furious, give your partner something positive to hang onto. This isn’t boot camp, it’s a relationship you’re in, and a relationship is about building love. Communications that aren’t constructive are, by definition, destructive. Where’s the payoff in destroying your house of love?
Honest. This one’s tricky. Making sure your communication is honest does not mean abandoning tact and diplomacy. Just because you met a guy you really want to have sex with doesn’t mean you have to run home and tell your partner about it. That would probably be neither useful nor kind. (Of course, depending on your understanding, it could be both!)
Being honest doesn’t excuse saying whatever pops into your mouth. “I hate your guts!” may feel honest at the moment, but it’s actually partial and inaccurate. The more truthful statement would be, “I’m really angry with you and am not in touch with my feelings of love for you.” The mandate to be honest requires us to choose our words carefully and not blurt out the first words that come to mind.
More fundamentally, the mandate to be honest requires us to be biased toward speaking the truth with our partner about the really important things. Are you ambivalent about the relationship? Then you should probably say so. But wait, you protest, doesn’t telling your partner you’re ambivalent violate the mandate to be kind? A fair question, but in the long run it’s kinder to be truthful than not. When you lie or withhold essential information, you’re erecting a shield that separates you from your partner. You’re reducing the potential for intimacy. At the end of the day, this is the unkindest cut of all.
The KRUCH rule is especially useful in two situations: If you feel the urge to say something to your partner you suspect might upset them, it’s advisable to run your communication through a KRUCH rule filter. When we’re triggered, we’re especially likely to say something we’ll regret later. Feeling angry and upset? Then take a deep breath and lean on that KRUCH before speaking.
We’ve all had the experience of saying something seemingly innocuous that, out of nowhere, riled our partner. The KRUCH rule reduces the risk of that happening.
It’s a way to practice safe communication.