Neutralizing Arguments with Your Spouse
- Dr. David Hawkins Director, The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2010 23 Aug
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
What if I could show you a way to end arguments before they began? What if you became so adept at anticipating arguments, you saw them coming from a mile away and could choose, with time to spare, how you wanted to handle the situation—without conflict?
As much as we say we hate arguing, most of us do it with regularity. We've watched our parents and children fight, and we slip easily into fighting as well. Sometimes it even seems like we embrace our fighting style, in spite of the tremendous damage it causes.
But, what if there is another way? What if there is a way to engage in lively conversation without bickering or arguing? Would you be interested? What if you could disagree with your mate and still not argue?
There is another way! There is a tool so powerful you'll wish you had learned it years ago. You are going to look back and see where this tool could have cut through years of conflict, maybe even saving relationships that became broken.
Recently, the destructive power of arguing became quite apparent to me during an emergency Marriage Intensive. Karen called and asked if I could work her and husband Cole into my schedule. She sounded desperate.
Arriving at The Marriage Recovery Center, they initially showed no obvious signs of distress. Karen, offering a warm greetng, looked vibrant and happy.
Cole a bit more reserved, joined in the chatty conversation, admiring the view from my office and a poster of a marathon I'd run.
The cordiality changed immediately, however, after they sat down. Karen asked for tissues as she prepared to speak. Cole stiffened.
And then it began.
"I've been telling Cole for years that I don't feel safe or protected in our marriage," Karen began, eyes filling with tears. "He doesn't listen to me. I could give hundreds of examples about how he has violated my trust. He's even threatened divorce. And look at him now," she said, pointing at him. "He's not listening to me."
I watched Cole stare at Karen, attempting to interject a comment only to be cut off by her icy glare as she listed his faults.
I asked Karen to stop for a moment while I checked in with Cole.
"Cole, how are you feeling about what Karen is saying?" I asked.
"I'm trying to listen. If I say anything I'm afraid it will turn into a fight, but if I just listen, she thinks I don't care. I don't know what to do."
"Karen," I said, "you are nursing a lot of wounds from things Cole has done and said. Is that right?"
"More than we can talk about in one day," Karen retorted sarcastically, dabbing at the tears in her eyes.
"I have a lot of complaints, too," Cole interjected forcefully. "I don't like the way things are going either. She acts like it's just her feelings getting hurt. She's always the victim. I have my own list of complaints, but there's no use sharing them. She can't hear me."
I could see the pain in Cole's eyes. He diverted his eyes from mine and Karen's, breathed deeply to keep from crying. .
"I know we've got a bunch of issues to talk about," I said, trying to stave off more blaming. "Past hurts, feelings of betrayal, and neither of you feeling understood. I think I know where you're coming from."
I took a moment to let my words sink in.
"You want to make your mate understand how hurt you are. You want them to care about your feelings. Would you be interested in learning about a tool that will help end these battles?"
"Yes," they said in unison.
"OK," I again paused, knowing this tool would unlock their power struggles. I knew this tool had the power of revolutionizing their relationship and perhaps yours too. "It's called neutralizing arguments."
While deceptively simple, when used, has a powerful impact. Simple tool—dynamite impact. Here it is: "I love you too much to argue with you. I'm going to stop this discussion until I can calm down and can give you my complete attention."
That's it! We neutralize arguments by refusing to engage in them. We understand that arguments occur when we're feeling threatened, angry or defensive. We try to "win" arguments as a defense against feeling threatened or insecure. But, this tool will help us feel more powerful than any assault tactic could ever do, but we must make a new decision: we refuse to argue. It's as simple as that.
Returning to a discussion, with both parties feeling neutral, we fully listen and learn all we can about our mate. We rehearse a critical insight: I cannot listen to you when I'm feeling defensive or angry, and so I will stop the discussion when my anger level becomes too high to listen.
You control you, and that means you can control when and how you will engage in a discussion. You never have to be lured into a spider web of debate, arguing or wrangling over an issue. You can let you mate know that you refuse to engage in fruitless arguments.
"I love you too much to argue with you. I'm going to stop this discussion until I calm down and can give you my complete attention."
Can you see the gift in this tool?
- When I refuse to argue, calming myself down, I am be better able to listen to what you have to say.
- When I refuse to argue, calming myself down, I am better able to learn the message you want to give me.
- When I refuse to argue, calming myself down, I am better able to validate your point of view, even if I don't agree with it.
- When I refuse to argue, calming myself down, I'm better able to understand where you're coming from.
- When I refuse to argue with you, calming myself down, I am better able to be influenced by your message, allowing it to impact and perhaps even change me.
Can you feel the power of this tool? By refusing to argue, mastering the art of being non-defensive, you show your love by really listening.
There is something quite enchanting that happens when someone feels listened to. When an angry person feels understood and validated, they calm down. When a hurt and frustrated person feels cared about and their message is making an impact, they feel loved.
Refusing to argue, and more important, focusing on creating an inner space where you can attend to you mate, will build a bridge to your mate, allowing love to flow back and forth freely.
August 23, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.