There are times when we say things we wish we hadn’t. My patients have certainly talked about this experience, especially as they go through menopause. I’ve experienced it too, wishing intently that I had kept a thought to myself, or studiously ignoring my husband’s question whether I would like to open my mouth to change feet.
Different strategies work for each of us but these have helped some of my patients, my friends, and me:
Be thoughtful: Really think about who you are speaking with. What are they sensitive about? How are they likely to feel when they hear this? Imagine how they will respond to you.
Be aware of the other person: Think about why you are sharing this. I don’t mean to suggest we should “walk on eggshells” with our friends, but sometimes our happy news about various events in our personal lives can be difficult for someone without a) parents, b) grandchildren, c) a new job, d) welcome lab results, for example. Sharing upsetting news can also have the potential to worry or upset other people. Consider how your words will affect others before speaking.
Confiding in friends can be a very helpful source of mutual support. We just need to consider which friends are best able to share and rejoice or comfort and empathize with our particular news or feelings.
Be kind: Be generous and sincere with compliments and good wishes. For example, notice the lovely outfit or earrings. Say how happy you are to see your friend. Make no negative comments. Saying something positive will take care of any airspace that might otherwise be awkward.
Limit advice: Avoid giving unsolicited advice. Also, sometimes we need to avoid offering solicited advice — especially to grown children and children-in-law. This is hard for me as a psychologist with lots of ideas, but I think my kids would rather get advice from a fortune cookie (or maybe another psychologist) than their mother. The advice may be wonderful and wise, but the editor needs to work overtime to let the kids separate and grow. Some of my patients who are seniors get defensive about this, stressing that they are indeed older and wiser. Often true, but I ask them to consider whether they value the relationship for its closeness and pleasure or for the opportunity to impart their wisdom.
Apologize: Apologizing is a good strategy when all else fails and our editors are literally out to lunch. A prompt “so sorry — what was I thinking — please forgive me — my editor must be out to lunch” can help smooth over a rough spot and acknowledge an unintended hurt with humor and grace.
I’d love to hear your stories of foot-in-mouth moments or how you’ve handled the urge! I welcome your comments.