So many couples come to The Couples Expert office practice in Scottsdale stating that communication is where they need help. They just don’t seem to be able to accomplish anything when they try to “talk it out”. They want a mediator, a referee. Sometimes they want me to say, “You’re right, she’s wrong.” Or they simply don’t know how to let the other person have their say without interrupting, shouting them down, or giving body language and interjected sighs and eye rolls that make the situation more intense and escalate the discussion into an argument, into a fight.
The way to avoid escalating your disagreements into WWIII is clear and achievable. It’s easy to say, “don’t escalate things”, but escalation happens so quickly when we’re not being mindful of the true essence of communication which is not talking or shouting, clamoring to be heard; it’s being quiet and listening. It’s attending to the speaker with your full attention, with the goal of hearing what they are trying to say (and sometimes what they’re not saying).
One of the greatest gifts that you can give the person you love is the gift of your time and attention. Feeling loved and important also means feeling listened to and heard. Give your partner the respect they deserve as the number one person in your life and disarm all those weapons of escalation. If there’s something important enough that your partner feels strongly about it, you should be listening to what they have to say. Not with the intention to refute, argue or disagree, but with the intention to understand how they feel and where they are coming from.
When you are having a discussion or a disagreement, remember to do the following:
- Stop what you are doing. Turn off the T.V. Put down your phone, book, newspaper or tools. What your partner has to say is important.
- Give the other person the respect of your full attention. Give them open body language (turn to them, no crossed arms), full eye contact and do not speak until they are finished speaking.
- Practice active listening. Nod your head when you’re understanding, show them that you are engaged with them in the moment and not thinking of the football score, your hair appointment or that thing you have to finish for work later.
- Be kind and supportive. When your partner brings you something that is frustrating or emotionally taxing them, be a friend and not a foe. Remind your partner that you’re on their side, not against them, EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE. Read this again. Build up and encourage your partner, don’t destroy their argument even if you can.
- When your partner is done speaking, don’t just jump in right away. Consider what is being said and answer thoughtfully and kindly. Knee jerk reactions and inflammatory comments will only escalate a disagreement. Answer calmly and make your case in the spirit of true communication.
Remember that the best way through a problem or issue is to work through it together. Everything you discuss should be with the intention of solving it, not proving the other person wrong or yourself to be right. It’s interesting to note that two different people can come to the same conclusion from very different points of view. Quit seeing your partner as an adversary and begin to think of them as an ally. Unity and teamwork will accomplish far more than a clash of wills. There are some fights you can never win. So agree to disagree if it’s something that is important to your partner. So you don’t come out the “winner”? So what? You win your partner’s love and respect. Be charming and disarming and learn how to be gracious in all different scenarios. You and your partner will see the difference in your interactions, and over time it will become easier and easier to work through your issues with the proper tools at hand.