Every relationship has their share of arguments. Money, In-Laws, Parties, Concerts, Playstation versus X-Box (that is not just a marriage buster but a family buster). The list goes on. Most of us never actually listen to what the other person is saying, we just wait to respond or, more accurately, let them have a few words of their response and attack. Some of us don’t even actually listen to what we are saying ourselves. How do we expect to resolve anything if we are listening to only half of the conversation at best?
Arguments rarely resolve anything. They result in hurt feelings, resentments, and, in some form or another, a person we love being bullied into agreeing to something they don’t want or like.
We know the process doesn’t work but we continue to have many of the same arguments over and over or new arguments in the same old style. We do this out of habit. We do this because it is familiar and comfortable. We do this because we do not know any other way. This is how our parents resolved disagreements. This is how we have resolved disagreements all our lives. For some of us, this results in us getting our way most of the time and for the others it results in frustration and pain or a determination to win the next argument at any cost even if it is just about which show we watch live and which show watch on the DVR later.
Arguing and shouting usually just result in upsetting the household and possibly the neighbors. Arguments, most of the time, are when we let our inner child out to “play”. As Dave Ramsey says, “Children do what feels good. Adults devise a plan and stick to it.” Maybe it’s time we act like adults when we have disagreements.
Some people try to have discussions. This is better. If all parties involved are following the rules usually taught in premarital counseling this means one person talks while the other actually listens and summarizes what they have heard from time to time. Neither party tries to anticipate what the other will say or how they will react. We do not engage in making baseless accusations and we compromise. The problem with this is that the more personally invested in an issue we are, the more quickly discussions degenerate into arguments.
So how can you discuss possibly or definitively contentious subjects and still get somewhere? You write it out. I use this personally as well as with my clients. This plan has a 100% success rate so far, each time it’s used. Admittedly, most clients do it once or twice and then revert back to old habits. I had one couple who managed it once a week. Want to guess which couple made the most progress?
The idea behind writing it out is multi-faceted. The first being, you think about what you want to say. When you write things down, you become both concise and precise. Ambiguousness tends to go away and you pay attention to what you are saying. The next idea is that in order to respond you have to read what is said by the other person or persons. Another great thing about this is that accountability is built in. Your words and your handwriting are there for all to see. No more “I didn’t say that” or “I don’t remember saying that.” And of course, by writing it out this gives you time process emotional responses and generally be more rational. It is amazing how different things look when we see them in writing and it is amazing how careful we are about what we agree to or promise when we are writing it down.
There are some simple rules for this process.
Remember that situations are fluid. Your children may be 4 and 6 now but in a few years, they will be able to help out with a multitude of chores. Start teaching them about sorting laundry now. There’s a time saver. As they get older, they will understand more and more about laundry and eventually will be able to do their own. Same with house cleaning. Yard work. Washing dishes. Cooking. Ever watch Masterchef Junior? My next article will be about the importance of kids contributing to the household with chores and…not being paid for it.
These are some articles I have written about issues that keep coming up in my practice. I try to achieve two things in my writings: keep the cookies on the bottom shelf, so I can reach them easily and try to put as much humor as possible in each article. The latter is just not always possible with some subjects.