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Let’s face it, all couples argue (well, some don’t but they probably don’t communicate much). Typically when we argue we we try to convince the other person that we are right and they are wrong. In doing so we tend not to listen much; instead while the other person is speaking we are thinking up a good come back or a verbal zinger to put the other person in his or her place. Pause for a moment and think about how effective this really has been for you.
Sometimes, along the way, couples escalate and start calling each other names or slinging insults (or even physical objects) at each other. Again, how well does this work? Now maybe you win some battles but you (both) lose in the end. After all, if you care about your partner, and you “win” that means he or she “loses.” Furthermore, when you sling mud during an argument, that needs to be cleaned up afterward.
Could there be a better way? Sure! What people really want when arguing is usually to feel listened to and understood. Sure, we might want our partner to agree with us and do things the way we want, but most of the time if you truly feel understood by your partner, the heat of the argument fizzles quickly and there’s nothing to apologize about afterward.
So how do you do this? As with most skills, it’s a good idea to do skill-building exercises and to practice these exercises. The exercise I’m about to describe is not how people actually talk to each other on a day-to-day basis; it’s an exercise. It’s kind of like a runner who wants to improve her time will do interval training: instead of just going out for a run as she usually does, she’ll sprint from one utility pole to the next one, then rest/jog to the next utility pole, and then run to the next one. If she repeats these “intervals” her running times improve. That said, you’ll never see someone run a marathon alternating between sprinting and walking from utility pole to utility pole.
Oh, another thing about the exercise: it’s frustratingly slow. You’ll likely hate this at first, but the slowness is part of it’s benefit. If you have to argue really slowly, you’re less likely to escalate to yelling.
So here’s the recipe:
Person A: Speak to Person B for up to 30-45 seconds making a simple statement, request, argument, etc.
Person B: Paraphrase in your own words Person A’s statement without introducing new information, interpreting, judging or otherwise modifying the statement.
Person A: Either give a thumbs up to acknowledge sufficient accuracy of the paraphrased response or thumbs down so you can offer clarification.
Person A: If thumbs down, don’t judge how or with whom the communication breakdown occurred; instead, simply restate in different words your main point in 30-45 seconds.
Person B: Paraphrase the restatement.
Person A: Thumbs up or thumbs down
Person B: Speak to Person A for up to 30-45 seconds responding to Person A or making a simple statement, request, argument, etc.
Person A: Paraphrase in your own words Person B’s statement without introducing new information, interpreting, judging or otherwise modifying the statement.
Person B: Either give a thumbs up to acknowledge sufficient accuracy of the paraphrased response or thumbs down so you can offer clarification.
Remember, this is not as easy as it seems, and to become a better arguer you’ll need to become a better listener. The more you listen (and communicate to your partner that you understand him or her), the less you’ll need to argue.
Give it a shot, and like any new exercise routine, don’t give up after one or two tries; instead, commit to practicing this (about real issues, not current events or the weather) for about 10 minutes every day for at least a week straight.