In a Nutshell: When you want to argue, first ask a question.
The other day I found myself in an argument with my hubby…and I didn’t even know how I got there! Sometimes it seems like we just land in the middle, without either of us knowing what we’re even arguing about. Luckily, we were able to recognize that the conversation we were having was in danger of making the Top 10 List of Stupid Fights and redirect pretty quickly, but not before I said some things I regretted.
Do you ever wish you could discuss hard things without one of you losing your cool or saying hurtful things? There is one simple skill that can really help couples communicate effectively, stay close, and diffuse arguments. The rule is this: When you want to argue, first ask a question. No, not a question like, “Why do you insist on always being so grouchy?” but a question that tries to understand the other’s heart and understand where they are coming from. I’m convinced that most marital disagreements come from two people trying (often in unproductive ways) to be understood. When one spouse approaches with a criticism, complaint, or unpleasant issue, the other usually jumps into defensive mode and sends criticism right back before they even really understand the other person’s perspective. We stand on opposite sides of the battlefield and yell out our point of view, piling up barriers and hurling ammunition at the person we love. But if one person refuses to jump into the battle, and makes the choice to understand instead of going for the win, those barriers come down and we can makes strides into truly understanding each other and working for a solution to the problem.
Is there a time to give your side of the story and share your feelings? Of course! After you feel like you understand their side. Stephen R. Covey, in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,” advocates something similar with this phrase, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Communication experts would call it Reflective Listening. They suggest listening carefully to what the other person is saying, and then rephrasing back what you think they are feeling. For me, the simple phrase, ASK A QUESTION, reminds me of both of these principles. When I do it, the situation has always improved.
A movie showing a couple asking questions and trying to understand each other certainly won’t make it to the Academy Awards—throwing wedding rings on the floor and slamming doors is much more cinematically riveting. But calmly seeking to understand and take care of our spouse’s heart will give us even greater rewards of peace, love, and closeness.
Try it today: When a conversation seems headed for battle, save the drama and try using skills instead. ASK A QUESTION!