Stop arguing! Learn to discuss by staying on task

One couple stated, “Every time we try to have a discussion it ends up in a full-blown fight.” The way we often talk to each other as spouses seems to show we have forgotten a few basic building blocks of marriage. These are:

 We love each other.

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  • One couple stated, “Every time we try to have a discussion it ends up in a full-blown fight.” The way we often talk to each other as spouses seems to show we have forgotten a few basic building blocks of marriage. These are:



  • (a) We love each other

  • (b) We want to be with each other

  • (c) We are not in competition with each other

  • (d) Our objective is to build our marriage

  • Some couples, when reminded of these ideas, will remark, “You’re right. We are determined to prove the other one wrong and that our idea is the only right one. It seems we get caught up in our own personal pride.” Here are two ideas in helping you find solutions while keeping in mind the above four building blocks.



  • 1. Own Your Own Stuff

  • It is easy to point the finger at someone else rather than taking your own responsibility. For instance, in the statement, “You make me mad,” the responsibility is passed to the other person. The immediate reaction is to get defensive with reply, “I didn’t make you mad.” Then ensues the childish exchange of “did to,” “did not,” “did to,” “did not,” etc., or some more adult variation of the same thing.

When you have a thought or feeling to express, say it from an “I” position. The above statement could more appropriately be, “I’m mad.” The reaction by the listener is then one of curiosity rather than needing to be defensive. This likely will elicit the comment, "What's making you mad?" Using statements such as, “I see,” “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” and “I propose,” will open the door to a more peaceful and productive discussion.



  • 2. Stay on Task

  • When your mate brings up a problem, your job is to stay with that subject until he or she has fully expressed what they need to say. Your job is to do the best you can to understand what your mate is talking about. This is effectively stated by Stephen R. Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand rather than to be understood.” If you’re not sure you understand what your mate has said, ask questions that clarify without guiding. For instance, “Could you help me understand that a little better? I'm not sure I understand.” Don’t assume you understand—continue to ask questions until you are sure you can see from your mate’s perspective. Remember, your job is to understand. You do not have to agree.

One of the easy tendencies is to switch the conversation to your side rather than staying on task. This is often done right after the initial statement of the problem, with a quick response of, “Let me tell you what I think.” With this statement the conversation has now been switched and the one starting the conversation immediately believes that "what I have to say means nothing and I really don’t count."

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  • When you stay on task, letting your mate fully express his or her needs or opinions without being interrupted, you have a greater probability of coming to a joint conclusion.

  • For more information about communication in marriage, see Stop Arguing! How do I bring up a problem to my spouse without causing a fight?

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Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships.

Website: http://garyjoylundberg.com

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