- Learning how to constructively argue is an acquired skill.
- Learning how to really listen is the key point.
- Put your point of view aside and make someone else's point of view of equal importance.
You may be on the same page with your partner for most things, but there will inevitably come a time when you don’t see eye to eye. You have some choices: You can ignore your differences and just circumvent the issue, or you can keep on trying to persuade your partner to see it your way, or you can get increasingly angry and eventually let your partner have it.
It’s probably a better idea to try to tackle your differences, the areas where you disagree, and attempt to iron out the problem in a way that allows both of you to express your opinions and beliefs, with the goal of finding some common ground, some area of compromise.
How do you do that when you feel strongly about an issue or problem, but so does your partner? Surely, you want to please yourself but you want your partner to feel satisfied as well. However, most of us are not taught how to have a constructive discussion. We model what we see around us. We may have seen people angry to the point where they stop talking to each other, or try to intimidate each other through insults and threats. We’ve perhaps seen situations where the conversation ends when one person declares their point of view the “winner.”
Here are some tips to help you navigate disagreements constructively and respectfully.
- Be present and focused. Clear away all distractions—no emails, texts, or phone calls. Leave aside all other issues and things you need to do. Put everything else on hold. Pay close attention. Your only job is to listen carefully and to try to understand, not only what’s being said, but the emotions being expressed. Give your partner all the time they need to explain their side of the argument, discussion.
- Don’t lecture. You probably have done this already but making time to constructively work on your differences is a completely different kind of exercise. It’s meant to be a give-and-take, back-and-forth discussion to help clarify your different points of view and to reach some kind of reasonable agreement about how to move forward. Your ideas and beliefs are just that—you’re ideas and beliefs. No more or less valid than your partner’s ideas and beliefs. Don’t lecture, or worse, pontificate from a superior position. This exercise is meant to level the field.
- Listen with rapt attention. Real listening is hard to do. The tendency for many of us is to think ahead of ourselves. Don’t just have your next point lined up in your head ready to pounce as soon as your partner is finished speaking. You’ll have completely missed out on what they’re saying. Composing your best response to challenge their point of view is totally counterproductive to the exercise. The idea is not to win but to honor both points of view respectfully.
- Consider your partner’s feelings. Sometimes, we argue just to be right, and sometimes just to get our way. Often it’s a power struggle. When we keep a conversation intellectual we can miss out on the feelings behind the choices we make. Ask your partner to express and explain their feelings. In the heat of anger people often can’t stay on point and end up expressing only anger and vindictiveness, instead of how they really feel. We all have our own individual experiences. We should never assume anything about how someone thinks, acts, and feels without having them explain it to us. Don’t ever assume that your way of experiencing anything is the way everyone else does. Don’t assume that because someone loves you they will want to experience things your way.
- Anger doesn’t have to be angry. This sounds funny but it’s true. Some people get angry right away. You don’t agree with them and they’re angry. And some people just wait too long to express how they really feel and allow their feelings to fester until they can’t take it any longer. Some people think that you have to act out anger to express being angry. That may mean shouting, cursing, putting on an angry face, attempting to intimidate, walking away in the middle of a discussion, and so on. Of course, that’s not true. For example, people can calmly state their anger, laying out the reasons why they are upset and frustrated.
- Don’t threaten. Some think that raising their voice gives them the upper hand. Verbally drowning someone out may seem like a good tactic at the time but accomplishes absolutely nothing except for bullying. Intimidation, verbal abuse, threats of withholding affection and support, and finally, abandonment have no place in a loving, caring relationship.
- Take timeout breaks. If you find yourself getting emotionally and even physically upset, overwhelmed, or overwrought, take a break from the discussion for a period of time, say a half-hour, to collect yourself, to collect your thoughts, to calm down, and to avoid becoming reactive, saying things you don’t mean. Sometimes, taking a break is a good idea anyway since it enables the partners to absorb what’s happening so far and to process the discussion before they continue.
Learning how to manage your differences in a civil and respectful way is an acquired skill, something you have to work on, and ultimately, a valuable life tool. Mastering this skill will stand you in good stead not only with your partner but with the many people you will interact with throughout your life.
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