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  • by Jonathan Sobin

7 Steps To Great Arguments!


Call me crazy, but I say the arguing is best part of marriage. Not if you're bad at it, of course. And that's what we are going to discuss today -- why and how to disagree.

Apart from disagreements, a lot of interactions we have with our spouses involve superficial comments about the weather, bill payment, our workday, home repairs and improvements, and -- as an old schoolmate of mine used to exclaim -- "The Cuban situation in Vietnam today!"

The reality is that when we are in disagreement, we inevitably touch upon on more important themes like values, beliefs, goals, and happiness.

If we are disagreeing about money, for instance, we might talk about the way money was handled in our family growing up -- and how important or hurtful that was -- or about security, and concerns about old age. If we are disagreeing about our partner's driving style, we are likely to touch upon issues around control, safety, and attitudes toward others. If we are disagreeing about parenting issues, we would be likely to talk about how our parents raised us, our own philosophy for parenting, what sort of people our children are, and what kind of goals we have for them as citizens of the household and of society. If we are arguing about work - leisure balance we will include mention of our professional aspirations, our interests and ambitions, and the quality of our connection to our spouse ... or lack thereof.

So disagreement is important since disagreement is an opportunity for an important exchange of deeper thoughts and opinions.

But here are 7 important considerations before you get started.

1. Put A Frame Around It -- It always helps to schedule disagreements. This allows everyone to kind of brace themselves. Your partner will be less defensive if he's not caught off guard. Instead, try saying, "There something I want to discuss. Can we talk Saturday morning?" This works best if the idea of scheduling has been discussed in advance; otherwise, scheduling itself can cause an argument. Then on Friday, you might drop in a little reminder. And on Saturday, try saying, "I'd like to have our conversation now-- are you up for it?" In this way, your partner has plenty of time to organize himself and remember what you have discussed about arguing. You will have few problematic negotiations if you put a frame around it -- I promise.

2. Scratch Your Chin -- This step is absolutely critical. Yet involves not being critical! The idea here is to let your two points of view coexist, to allow them to sit out there as if on the table in front of you. Scratch your chin. Say, "Wow, we see this very differently!" One technique people use at this stage is to take turns explaining the OTHER person's point of view -- to be sure you understand and to demonstrate that you have been listening (not just planning your own counterargument) and that you respect the other person's intelligence and sincerity. Another technique is to use the old debate team format: I get two minutes to explain my point of view, and then you get two minutes for yours. Then I get a one minute rebuttal, and you get a one minute rebuttal. And then we are done for now.

3. Keep Track of the Temperature -- This is the most important concept in this entire process. Let's call the problem temperature 100 degrees. It's okay to get a little bit intense, but we don't want any anger, we don't want raised voices, and we don't want swearing or name-calling. When the temperature of the conversation goes above 100 degrees, it's time to say, "Well, we're getting a little heated here. Let's stop for now. Can we resume on Saturday?" Notice the emphasis on "WE." No matter who is getting upset, please use the plural pronoun. To review, when the conversation gets heated (above "100 degrees"), it's time to stop.

4. Never Expect to Get Done in One Sitting -- When you feel you HAVE to get done in one sitting, the outcome is often yelling -- I will overpower you with my loudness, or my great logic, or my insults to your intelligence or expressive style -- or a cutoff, meaning we will go to our own ends of the house and avoid each other for the next week. Instead, expect discussions to take more than one session, and expect that you will take a break, based on intensity rising, or becoming repetitive, or feeling you have said all you have to say, or respectfully taking the time to consider the arguments made by your spouse.

5. Whoever Calls for the Pause Must Schedule the Resume -- Another key step is that whoever calls for the stoppage takes responsibility by reminding about the resume day and time and "putting a frame around it" as the time approaches. This is very, very important as it ensures that stopping the discussion when the temperature rises will not feel like a power play to terminate the negotiation completely.

6. Your Commitment is Bigger than Any Argument -- What an important concept this is! You have to believe that your relationship is bigger and broader and deeper than any argument. So the idea here is that after you put the discussion on pause, you must return to your loving, partnerly, fun relationship. In other words, since your relationship is bigger and broader and deeper than any argument, even when you are in a state of disagreement you can be "normal" with each other. There is no need to be cold, distant, arch, or sarcastic. Not that when the resume date comes you don't say, "So, remember the conversation we were having?" You absolutely MUST go back to the discussion.

7. Unless You Agree Not To -- What you are going to find is that half the time when the resume time comes, you will both be fine dropping the issue. Of course, some issues cannot be dropped, but a lot of them really can. If only one person wants to drop it that doesn't count. But if both of you think the issue is not worth more discussion, just let it go. It's really fun to say, "If you want to drop it, I want to drop it. What do you say?"

So some discussions really are finished in one sitting; others may take several sessions, or a dozen, or even years of discussion. That's as it should be. Just promise me this: When you notice yourselves about to have an argument, you will get excited and say, "All right -- a chance to practice our arguing techniques. Let's do a really great job!"


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Jonathan Sobin, Psy.D



 

 

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