Disagreements in any relationship are inevitable, even for couples who care deeply for each other. However, if fights are happening in your marriage, it’s because you are choosing to have them. I realize that’s a provocative statement but, in reality, your partner cannot have an argument by themselves. You have to agree to participate.
Developing an effective process of talking through your disagreements without fighting is essential if you want a long and successful marriage. Creating a safe environment where you each can share your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives without needing to defend yourself is crucial for long-term harmony. The good news is that there are skills and techniques that can help you with this process.
One of the most important steps is to make sure you’re talking about the same thing. Many times, you and your partner will be using the same words but are really talking about different things. This is one reason the two of you don’t reach real resolutions. You end up talking past each other or think you have a solution only to find the issue rearing its ugly head again.
It is critical to understand that conversations occur on at least three different levels, and one of them is the key to all your fights.
The first is what I call the event level. What’s being addressed is fact-based and simple. It rarely requires more than a yes/no or short response. Conversations at this level often just consist of sharing information. Did the mortgage get paid? What time will you be coming home? Did you go to the gym? You might be slightly annoyed at the response, but there shouldn’t be any strong emotional reaction for either of you.
The second level is the topic level. This is still a fact-based conversation, but it is broader in scope. Conversations at this level might revolve around whether you can afford to buy a new car or where to spend the holidays. Because there can be differences of opinion at this level, there may be some heated discussion. Again, however, neither of you should get emotionally spun out.
If strong emotional reactivity is occurring, then whoever is experiencing those hot emotions is at the third level of conversation, what I call the issue level. This is where your hopes, fears, values, morals, beliefs, and expectations live. All of your emotional triggers are generated at this level and this is what’s leading you to argue with your partner.
The challenge to having a productive conversation is to know which level you each are at. And (I can tell you) you can start at one level and cycle through to the others very quickly. And, If the two of you don’t have the conversation at the appropriate level, you will never reach agreement.
A related challenge is that each of you truly sees the subject at a different level. One of you may see it as a topic level discussion, when the other is at the issue level. Unless you are addressing the problem atthe same level, you will never reach resolution. This is the reason you keep having the same argument over and over again, or why everything becomes an argument.
If an issue keeps coming up, you need to go to a deeper level to find the solution. And if one of you is hot, that means all the way down to the underlying issue level. So, “the dirty socks on the floor” may be the words you each are saying, but the root of your argument is what those socks being left on the floor mean to each of you.
So, if you and your partner fight or argue more than you like, you have a way to bring about peace. Now that you know how to identify what the real problem is, you can focus your energy on finding a solution that works for both of you. It might take some practice, but I guarantee it’s worth it.
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A version of this post was previously published on TheHeroHusbandProject and is republished here with permission from the author.
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