Originally published Sunday, 16 September 2012.
Welcome to this week's Coaching Corner!
Keep reading to find about what to do when you and your spouse just can't seem to see eye-to-eye.
Dear Dr. Ann,
My husband and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum of personality types. I am introspective and pragmatic. He is extroverted and impulsive.
It is difficult for me to have an adult discussion/argument with my husband without it escalating to a yelling match. I know that we both play our part in the downward spiral. We say that we love each other but after 15 years of marriage, we are still dealing with the same communication issues that faced us during our first year of marriage. How can we learn to argue constructively? What should I do to repair our relationship?
mom and business owner, NJ
This is a tough place to be, but not impossible. The fact is that we can all learn to argue more constructively and we can all improve.
An important beginning: both parties have to be motivated to “fight to win” – win for the marriage, as opposed to winning for themselves.
What comes next?
When tempers flare quickly, as you described, it becomes pretty near impossible to have a positive discussion in the moment. I like to describe this state as “hearts racing, heads scrambled.” It’s similar to first falling in love, but not exactly!
So a next step is…to step back
(I just wrote a blog post about this, which you can read here.)
Why step back?
This helps us to follow that timeless wisdom in medicine, which is “First, do no harm.” By simply not saying something that you will later regret, you may have already won half the battle.
So step back.
Then, use the time to gather your thoughts and prepare your heart. For some, it may involve scribbling furiously in a journal ‘til they get clear on what they truly want to say. For others, it might involve praying to help adjust their perspective on their spouse.
Finally, return to your spouse in a spirit of love. You are on the same team, after all! You want to find a way to solve the issue…together.
But there is a key caveat. Many of us don’t have a whole lot of practice at doing this. It’s not the first idea that comes into our heads Usually, the first instinct is “fight or flight,” not “respond with reason”! As a result, we can get stuck in a negative cycle.
If that’s the case, my feeling is that meeting with professional go-between (coach, therapist, counselor) can be a big help. You have a neutral setting, with a helpful mediator, who isn’t invested in either side being right. There, both partners can practice using their new muscles of calm cooperation.
If hubby’s willing to go, then go! If he (or you) are not willing to go, then you have to figure out: what’s the alternative, and can I live with that? That becomes your boundary line for improving your communication, and your marriage.
This is a coaching start. Many blessings on your journey. It’s hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight. But it can be done!
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Dr. Ann is a M.D. who writes, speaks, and coaches. Her mission is to empower women in life and work! Ann is syndicated on Crosswalk.com, and has been featured onBlogHer.com, MichaelHyatt.com, Fox news, and Good Morning America.
Copyright Dr. Ann 2012
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