Ever been in an argument that has no end? It just keeps going around and around? And around? Do various related and not-so-related ‘other’ subjects keep finding their way in? Want to do it better? Try organizing the conversation and working through it methodically. Here’s how:
1. Try to identify all the issues that have surfaced in the argument. What seem to be the main issues? And what are the things that are affecting the issues?
2. Talk about the issues one at a time.
3. Take turns talking and listening.
4. Occasionally, repeat back to the other person the thing they just said to make sure you heard it right.
5. If you didn’t accurately receive the message they’re trying to send,
a. Ask them to say it again
b. Ask clarifying questions
c. Summarize what they’re trying to communicate to ensure you got it right (even if you don’t agree!)
6. Apologize freely. It makes you kinder, not weaker. If you’ve played any role in the current problem situation, try to muster the strength for an “I’m sorry.” It could as something as innocuous as “I’m sorry I’m frustrating you, I’m really not meaning to”. The other end of the spectrum is taking responsibility for a bigger role in the problem, such as “I’m sorry I just sat there reading while you folded all the laundry and then made dinner. That was pretty selfish of me.”
7. Talk about how you each want it to be. What do you envision the situation to be if it were positive and not problematic? Try to put your two visions together into a joint vision for both of you in the relationship and say it out loud. “I’m hoping that housework gets done weekly in a way that doesn’t make either of us feel like we’re carrying the bulk of the load. I want it to feel even and fair.”
8. Say the things you will each do to make your vision a reality.
Think about it like a book. The title is the main problem and the chapters are issues surrounding it, affecting it, related to it. Using the same as above example, say you’ve just lost your temper because you’ve been doing chores all day while your spouse sits and reads, takes a walk, takes a nap, and then asks you what’s for dinner. As soon as you can, calm down enough to ask your spouse if you can talk about the division of labor in the house.
Title of Book (Argument): Housework
- Chores to be Done
- Who Usually Does Them
- Chores You Love, Chores You Hate
- What Other Responsibilities You Each Have
- How You Each Want it to Be
- What Needs to Change
- Steps that Will be Taken to Implement Change
In reality, you’re probably not upset about just the housework. There’s usually another issue (or two or three!) that is getting all comingled in there. In this case, you’ll want to finish one book at a time. Pay attention to which book it is your ‘reading’ from while you’re talking. Using the same example, let’s say part of the problem is that one of you works at home raising the children while the other spouse commutes to their 8:30-5:00 job and some of the upset feelings about this dynamic are creeping into the issue of housework (See Chapter 4 above). Sometimes the issues are related and sometimes they’re not at all. Either way, try to break it down so you’re talking about one book at a time.
“I agree that we need to talk about our professional work and family responsibilities because it keeps coming up. Can we try to get to some end point on housework first and then talk about it?”
The last thing I’ll offer is that if one of the problems feels huge and unfixable, tackle the easier, more tangible one first. In this case, it might be the housework problem. Coming up with concrete plans on who is going to do what can help you both feel like you’re making progress in the big picture.