When I first started practicing, this couple came into my office. They seemed to love each other in certain ways but they were constantly screaming at each other and debating about nothing. One wanted a bright orange couch with zebra print cushions and the other preferred muted tones. One wanted to go to Tahoe for vacation, the other wanted to go to the Caribbean. One drank a lot of beer and the other was totally abstinent from alcohol. They each really, really believed that were right and the other one was wrong. They came into couples counseling each believing that I would tell them that they other was wrong. In fact, both of them kept looking and me and saying “won’t you just tell him/her that he/she is wrong?”
No. That’s not the way couples counseling works. I once even had a client who told me that her boyfriend refused to go to couples counseling because he told her that “the counselor is just going to tell you that you’re wrong. If you just listened to me and did the right thing, we wouldn’t need to spend money on counseling.”
Marriage counselors aren’t in the business of siding with one part of the couple. That just furthers the split between them. We are advocates for the partnership as a whole. Because of that, we choose not to make one side right and one side wrong, we help people to see both sides of the issue. Arguing in a relationship can be healthy, as long as the argument goes somewhere and moves energy. It shouldn’t end at each partner in a standstill. The following rules can help make arguing effective:
1.) Never EVER call each other names. It’s immature and abusive.
2.) No saying things like, “case closed, that’s all there is to it.” You should always make space for *compromise.
3.) No talking over each other. Each person should get a floor to talk. Set a timer for 7 minutes for each person to talk uninterrupted. Take notes and if there is something you want to address, do so when it’s your turn to respond.
4.) Avoid using hyperbole like “you never,” or “you always,” this give the other person very little room for compromise or change, and indicates that you don’t have faith in their ability to change.
5.) Do not ever use one another’s pasts or family of origin against them. We all have mistakes from the past and we all have our own family dysfunction, no one is perfect and no family is perfect, but we have to move past them and having a nurturing, loving partner can help us with that.
6.) Always use “I” statements. “I feel lonely and scared when you judge me…” “I feel hurt and nervous when you question our future and begin to take action toward moving out…”
7.)They would get into these insane arguments where Anne would eventually say, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m leaving. This just isn’t working…” Don’t leave and don’t threaten to leave! If things escalate, don’t reject or abandon one another, but call a time out. The time out should have a set time:“I am calling a time out. I need some space to breathe, process in think, Let’s meet back here in 20 minutes.”Meanwhile, use that time out to breath and check in with yourself so that you can more fully articulate what you are feeling rather than getting caught up in your anger spiral.
8.) Acknowledge each other’s efforts, “I see that you’re trying to understand me, let me explain it this way to help you from my point of view.”
9.) Don’t ask why… Why is a word that often elicits defensiveness and arguing. “Why do you have to spend 2 hours in front of the computer every night?” Instead, “When you spend your time in front of the computer at night, I feel abandoned and lonely.”
10.) When you want to express your dislike of a behavior, use these phrases: When you ___________ (what the behavior is) I feel _______ (state your feeling).Saying it this way focuses on the behavior and the not the person as a whole. A person isn’t their behaviors, they can choose to do different behaviors. Saying it this way includes your feelings, which make you vulnerable. Showing vulnerability helps someone trust your intentions and move into peaceful communication.For example: “When you sit in front of TV at night after dinner, and I am left to clear the table and wash the dishes by myself, I feel invisible and taken for granted and it makes me sad, but also angry.”
11.) Give up being right. Being right is a losing battle. Every person believes that they are right. In reality, there’s no truth, each person is just as right or as wrong as the other. What seems important one day is not so important the next day. Being right is almost never worth the suffering of fights.
12.)It’s important to learn how to talk about feelings and create an emotional literacy without trying to fix or change the feeling. Check out this list of feelings randomly once or twice a day and identify what feeling you are having. After identifying the feeling, there’s not much to do other than be with it, feel it, don’t try to fix it. Be with it without judgment or fear. Being with your feelings without trying to change them will help you to be comfortable with them so that they don’t come out unexpectedly and aggressively.
Check out hypnosis for creating more peace in your relationship.