The Chedva Beat: How is it possible for a couple to create peace in their home when they are constantly arguing?
Batya: Here are some general guidelines that can help.
- Learn to listen
- Hear what’s already being said
- Be successful
- Be wrong
- Be the one
- Lighten up
Arguing is what they know. As in any pattern of behavior or interpersonal interaction, in order to change the dynamic they must have the will to change. One simple change is learning the art of good communication, especially listening. Listening, particularly good listening is so hard to come by in today’s world, it’s no wonder people have no model for it. They fall back on their default mode.
I remember having an interview with a man who was very soft-spoken, relaxed and centered despite the hectic chaos of phone calls and such going on all around him. He was in the midst of listening to me intently and excused himself for ten minutes while he took care of a number of urgent interruptions. When he came back he picked up from exactly where he had left off. He remembered verbatim the last thing I had said. He didn’t miss a beat. His example stayed with me for quite awhile.
Even if we were never exposed to this kind of model, listening is a learned skill. The best way to listen is to not follow any rules but just be completely focused on the other. Pay as close attention as you can. If their words bring up emotions for you, make a mental note and keep quiet. If it triggers your own thoughts about things, keep silent and take note of it.
Try to understand what the person is saying and to imagine how the person is feeling right now. Check with the other person to see if you understood correctly and fully to the other person’s satisfaction.
Of course, being able to do this requires discipline, patience and humility, which arguing couples no doubt have in short supply. For the time being you can pretend you have patience. You are not ignoring your side of things. Your turn will come – later.
At the same time as learning to listen, the couple has to hear what is already being said. Arguing is not the best kind of communication but there is something being said. Perhaps she is yelling at him even louder in the effort to convince herself of the worthiness of her own needs and it only sounds as if she’s yelling at him. Perhaps he is saying one thing and she is hearing something else. The message misses the mark.
The most important question in this regard is: What is this argument really all about? If a lot is happening on the surface of things, you can be sure there is much more going on beneath the surface. Is it only about the dent in the car? Not likely. There’s already a charged atmosphere because of underlying feelings that have never been addressed. It’s time to start addressing them.
Crisis brings people to seek help and to want to change. But what keeps them there? How do they keep going despite the inevitable challenges along the way?
One of the biggest blocks to changing hurtful behavior patterns is the thought: “This is just the way I am. I can’t change.” When I was growing up I remember hearing the expression: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” They should have said “If at first you don’t succeed, try something else!” If what you’ve been doing until now has not been working, obviously this is not the way. Creating small successes restores self-confidence and the belief that one is capable of changing.
Another major block is the feeling of threat to one’s being. One partner sometimes feels threatened by the other partner’s expression of need. Also, if I have to change, that means I’m forced to admit I was wrong before. So be wrong. Decide it’s okay to be wrong. Nobody’s right all the time. If your partner doesn’t like something you’re doing, use it as a matter-of-fact reminder to alter your behavior, similar to the indifference with which you would relate to an eyeglass prescription. Don’t use your shortcomings as an excuse for why you can’t be expected to behave otherwise. If you don’t like something your partner is doing, don’t use it as a condemnation.
Rule number five is: It takes two to tango; it only takes one to change the dance step. Be the one. People often feel: “Why should I be the one to change? She/he should change!” It’s very important to know that even one person changing will change the dynamic of the relationship. What can you do differently? No one can tell you that. You have to be a little creative, a little playful, a little daring. Now that you’re doing something different, your partner is caught off guard. He’s not going to respond the same way because you’ve changed the pattern.
Most important: Lighten up. If you feel like screaming, turn it into an exaggeration of a scream, an imitation of some movie character. Get yourself to laugh. You only live once!