If Your Partner Is Turning Into The Big Bad Wolf, Here's Why

A fable for escaping the aggressiveness/defensiveness vicious cycle.

Posted Oct 16, 2014

Once upon a time a dog and a little piggy became romantically entwined. The dog was a little gruff and the piggy was a little defensive. She lived in a straw house, where he would come to pick her up for their dates.

On one date, about six months into their relationship, the dog commented on her defensiveness, and being the defensive kind, she didn’t want to hear anything about it.

She denied that she was defensive and told the dog that he was gruff and ought to learn good manners. He tried to say it more nicely, but no matter what he said, she had an answer for him that let him know she’d hear none of it.

So the dog bit his tongue and talked about other things. 

That night the piggy couldn’t sleep. She decided she needed more protection than her old straw house. In the morning she got up early and built herself a new house out of sticks.

When the dog came over for their next date he knocked on her door and said, “let me come in.”

The piggy wouldn’t.

This bothered the dog. They had an argument through the door. No matter what he said, she wouldn’t let him in. He sat on the doorstep for a while, and tried to talk about nice things so she would calm down and let him in. When she wouldn’t, he got impatient, and then impulsively just blew her door down and came inside.

She was surprised by how angry he looked, more like a wolf than a dog. She scolded him all night long for his gruffness. He apologized and said it would never happen again.

But she didn’t believe it. That night, after he left, she decided that she needed a stronger house. Better defenses.

When the dog came over for their next date he was surprised to find brick walls where sticks had been. He exercised his patience as long as he could, but then blasted again, and to no avail against those brick walls.

Their neighbor, a pelican who worked as a couples counselor heard all the racket and came over to see if she could help.

“He’s a beast,” said the little piggy through the door. 

The wolf looked sheepish.

“That was you yelling?” asked the pelican.

“Yes” the wolf said all hangdog.

“Have you tried asking for what you want nicely?” asked the pelican.

“I thought I had,” he said.

“And have you tried listening nicely?” asked the pelican through the door.

Silence.

“Listening is listening” the piggy finally said. “I told him I heard him.”

“Do you say “I heard you, but…” asked the pelican.

Silence.

“Yeah, actually she did,” mumbled the wolf.

“Listening nicely rarely has ‘but’ in it, at least not right after ‘I heard you,’” the pelican said. “And it also rarely has ‘I heard you.’”

“But isn’t nice listening all about hearing?”

“Yeah,” said the pelican, “but saying ‘I heard you means nothing. You can say that whether you heard or not, and if you say ‘but’ right after it, it’s pretty guaranteed you didn’t hear or at least that you didn’t give it even a moment’s thought. See, I think it’s neither of your faults that this dog is causing such a ruckus. Or it’s both of your faults, but it’s easy to fix. This is the oldest problem in the book. I went through it with my husband too. If giving feedback feels like talking to a brick wall, a brick wall that says “but” and “you didn’t ask right,” “you’re a beast” then the talker will try to be quiet, but that doesn’t work for long, and then the talk ends up blasting.”

“But I didn’t say he’s a beast until just now,” said the piggy.

“And I bet he wasn’t a beast until now too. See that’s the thing. If you don’t listen nicely you bring out the beast in him,” said the pelican.

“I hear you but he didn’t start just now. He started becoming a beast before,” said the piggy.

“Which made you feel more defensive, right?” said the pelican. “Say, wasn’t your house made of straw last week?”

Silence.

“See, he’s not a wolf and you’re not a pig.”

“Actually I am,” said the piggy.

“Well maybe, but what I’m saying is you’re not greedy, selfish or indulgent.”

“Thank you” said the piggy.

“But the solution isn’t just for this doggy to ask nicely. You’ve got to hear nicely.”

“How?” said the piggy.

“It’s simple,” said the pelican. “When he gives you feedback, just say his feedback back to him in your own words as if you were his friend and you were trying to explain his feedback to someone.”

“She is my friend,” said the doggy.

“But what if I disagree with it?” asked the piggy.

“Now that’s the beauty part,” said the pelican. “You say it whether you agree with it or not. It shows him you heard it. Then later you can tell him if you disagree. But saying it means you really heard it, you really took it in, so you’ll be more patient with it. You’ll give it moment’s thought rather than just saying an immediate ‘yes, but.’ Can you try that?”

“OK,” said the piggy. 

"And you too, you old dog, 'cause I bet you sometimes get defensive also?" asked the pelican.

"I hear you, but" smiled the dog.

And the piggy and doggy lived happily ever after. Moved back to a stick house actually so others could give them feedback too.