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How to Argue Better

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After almost 40 years of working to help couples, I offer a podcast of substance on what relationships require to last for the long haul. I use books & movies to illustrate the points I’m trying to make. I offer challenges of things you can actually do in your own relationship at the end of every podcast which is under 10 minutes.

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Argue with respect, this is truly possible! Never arguing is just as bad as arguing all the time, they are both problems because they are in the extreme. The secret to life is in the middle ground which means disagreement with respect, perhaps easier said than done. You have to be able to embrace what is valuable about TWO points of view at the same time.

What we usually do is demand that one of us is right & one of us is wrong. It’s gotten very easy for me to see value in both points of view when I sit with couples. I’m not Judge Judy, nor do I want to choose sides.

If you are a woman in a brand new relationship and you discover two secrets a month apart, you will feel very self righteous about feeling betrayed. The trick here is can you find any imagination about why your boyfriend kept the secrets? The truth is if you throw things & scream a lot you have a responsibility to look at how you contribute to secret keeping. You have a choice, you can dig a trench or build a bridge…..

Let’s take money which is a classic struggle in most relationships:
one person is hyper careful or perhaps frugal with money & the other wants to enjoy life or perhaps they are wasteful
Both points of view belong in a marriage. You need a balance of both to make things work well. The problems begin when there is disdain for one side of the equation.

The ingredient that makes relationships work over the long haul is respect for the differences.

It is the ugliness of disrespect that insists that there is only one way to look at a dilemma. Why does this insistence play out in most relationships? Because it is simpler to have one person be in charge, it is far more messy & uncomfortable to struggle with two ways to look at something. We like simplicity because it is more comfortable.

The beauty of respect is that you don’t have to like the stretch of considering there is merit to the other point of view. You decide to face the possibility that you might have something to learn instead of hanging on to the normal, defensive posture “I’m right, I’m sure of it!”.

My best example of a couple on t.v. that argues respectfully is the secretary of state & her husband on the Sunday night show Madam Secretary. They are absolutely terrific in their ability to respectfully disagree.

Defensiveness really gets in the way of clear communication. We are all insecure & we are all defensive. When we are defensive we are not listening, we are too busy lining up our arguments for a future strike of self righteousness.

So what is the opposite of Defensiveness you might wonder? Being open to value in another point of view. There is only one path to integrity & that is self confrontation. Instead of defending yourself you might confront yourself. Take a look at you might need to learn to have more balance instead of being so lopsided in your approach.

So instead of flooding the moat with water & filling it with alligators ask yourself how might the other point of view have value & see if you can meet in the middle by greeting your opponent with some validation that they have a good point here or there. This would demonstrate being more flexible & less rigid which is of greater mental health.

Anger is an important tool in the emotional tool box. Anger is the emotion that roars: “I’m important” which can be useful sometimes, not all the time. However anger can be self righteous & demand there is ONLY ONE WAY TO LOOK AT THIS! So what is the opposite of self righteous anger? being vulnerable. Underneath anger there are often hurts or unspoken wants. It’s important to be able to articulate those hurts and/or wants, this requires more willingness to share in a vulnerable way. So when you argue find the self control to do two things 1. be able to be vulnerable instead of angry & 2. Listen to value in the other persons point of view.

Self control leads to greater success in life according to the Stanford Marshmellow test. They tested 4 to 6 year old because that is when delayed gratification can begin to develop.

It’s an unfair test of love to believe someone should know if they really love you. They are wired differently than you & have different ideas about what’s good. So many times you have to teach them or ask them for what you want.

So I have a technique I ask couples to use at home, when they are in the middle of an argument. Stop for 15/20 minutes & each of you take a few minutes to write down 3 things.
The First: Write down what is important to you about the argument
The second: Write down what is important to the other person
The third part: Is there a way you can be more vulnerable & say what is important to you?

Challenge: Think of your last argument. What was your partner right about? How might you take a step towards them to build a bridge instead of digging a trench. Try letting them know how they made sense. What does your partner do better than you that you might need to learn from them?

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