The clients I work with are pretty self-aware people, so when they argue, it’s usually because they don’t know how to effectively communicate—most people have never learned—or they do know how to communicate, but they are using their partner to victimize themselves.
Here’s an example:
A couple comes into my office for counseling and the wife tells the husband, “I’m still mad at you for the way you came into the bedroom a couple of nights ago, rolled your eyes, and declared, ‘I don’t want to have this conversation more than once.’”
The husband replies, “First of all, let me say what really happened. I did not come into the bedroom; the conversation took place in the hallway. I did not roll my eyes as you suggest and I find your representation of me insulting. And if you were listening, you would have heard that my tone was such that I was saying to you, ‘Let’s have this conversation in a really constructive way so that we don’t have to continue to have it over and over again.’”
What a waste of time…
If my partner said to me, “Let me tell you what really happened,” I would be offended—as if my partner knows the “truth” and I don’t. But I hear this often. People argue about who said what, when it was said, the tone of voice, and the meaning behind the words.
It’s really a waste of time. When two people recollect an event there is no singularly correct interpretation. We remember things differently. We make different meanings of the same event or conversation.
I half-humorously suggested to this couple that if they were going to continue relating in this way they should buy lapel cameras, like the ones police are now wearing on their uniforms to record all of their interactions.
There is a better solution
The solution is simple, yet apparently difficult to remember.
The solution is first and foremost to believe that the other person is honestly telling you about their experience. If you believe that they are honest, and you remember they are always telling you about their interpretation, then there’s not much to argue about. How can the other person be wrong? How can you presume to correct them when they are telling you how they interpret something?
In the example above, the husband was offended because he didn’t like the way his wife was representing him to me. He said, “I don’t want another person to misrepresent me. I know what I said and I don’t want to be misrepresented.”
My response was, “Your wife is not misrepresenting you. She is not talking about you. She is talking about her experience. She is talking about herself.” I explained that in Reology we make a distinction as to whether we are talking about “you”—the other person sitting next to you in the chair, or “you-in-me,” which is my projection of you. If people would learn to make this distinction they would eliminate many arguments.
I went on, “If you care for your wife and you believe she is an honest person then listen to her as she tells you her experience. You’ll learn a lot about her.”
He asked, “What if she’s wrong?”
I asked, “Do you believe that your wife is an honest person? And if you don’t think she is then why are you with her?”
He said, “Yes, basically she’s a very honest person.”
I said, “Well then listen to her and stop making this about you.”
This husband is a scientist so his next question didn’t surprise me, “But what about the objective reality?”
I said, “There is seldom an objective reality that you two are arguing about. It’s almost always your subjective experiences that you argue about. So stop with the, ‘No, this is really what happened.’”
And because he’s a scientist I reminded him of what the brilliant physicist, John Wheeler, said, “There is no out there out there.” We’re talking about our subjective experience of what’s “out there.”
Therefore, there really is nothing to argue about. But, if you’re someone who does argue frequently with your partner, consider this—why do you want to make your partner wrong? What does that accomplish? It doesn’t create intimacy. It isn’t loving. So, what do you want? Do you want to be right? And, if so, right about what?
My observation is that healthier couples focus on loving one another well, not on being right.
If you want to learn more about how to speak in such a way that eliminates arguments, look at our Dating Relating Mating course, which is on Amazon at a 70% discount.