Together you can find a solution to any problem you encounter. As long as you can remember that you are on the same team…
Most couples who seek counselling for relationship problems, experience that the problem has become a wedge between them, which is pushing them apart. The primary objective in helping them toward arguing constructively must therefore be, to move the problem to a more empowering position for the two people involved, to help them get back to operating as a team. To help them see that the problem is the relationship’s, not one or the other of the two people involved, regardless of where the “symptom” (e.g. jealousy, insecurity, anger, irritation, worry) appears.
Arguing Constructively, Step 1
The first step toward arguing constructively, is for both of you to remind yourselves of the fact that the problem is wedging in between you, and is stopping you from arguing constructively. You may certainly have very upset and intense feelings, which you need to let out first (which, by the way, neither means supressing them nor dumping them on someone). So, rather than throwing accusations and demands for change at your partner, take a Time-Out, until you can re-focus on what you really want to achieve – to make your team, i.e. your relationship more successful.
Arguing Constructively, Step 2
As the second step of arguing constructively, without being righteous about it and without attacking your partner, state your own position. Be open and honest about who you are. Express how you feel, what you want, and maybe even what you are afraid of. Most importantly, make sure to use factual statements, instead of blaming.
Listen to your partner, listen with your heart. Hear what they are saying, and try your very best to understand. Appreciate that this is what the situation is like from the other perspective. If you feel unfairly treated, or attacked, try to remain non-defensive and open. Assume that there is a misunderstanding somewhere, that one of you (or both) has misunderstood the other. More often than not this is actually the case, but even when it is not, it will still help you maintain an open mind while you are listening.
Arguing Constructively, Step 3
The third step in arguing constructively is about remembering love. Close your eyes and recall the qualities that you love most about your partner. Remember situations where these qualities have been particularly present – when he played with that puppy, when she was picking flowers – thoughts which bring back the feeling of love and appreciation for your relationship. Perhaps, if it feels right for the two of you, take your partner’s hand, and imagine a flow of warm, joining love energy moving between you.
Arguing Constructively, Step 4
From this frame of mind, as the fourth step in arguing constructively, think about what you can do toward resolving the problem situation. Think about what you are willing to do, so that both of you may have your needs met. Think about possible conditions, under which you would be willing to “meet them half way”. Don’t sacrifice your own needs, but try to be open for solutions that will satisfy more than your own needs.
Then open your eyes, and share your ideas. Discuss them, and negotiate, like two mediators, who are seeking the point where both parties can agree. Discuss them as if you were (and of course you are) the two head coaches for a team, figuring out the best tactics for an upcoming challenge. And if you “lose the plot”, and begin feeling negative, just go back to step three again.
Whatever agreements you make, stick to them! If you find that you have promised more than you are able to keep, ask for a re-negotiation rather than breaking your agreement. And if you find that you have different ideas on what the agreement actually is/was, then write it down on paper, and try again.
And if, in spite of all good intentions, you find that you are failing in your intentions of arguing constructively, and your negotiations continually end up as non-constructive arguments, then you may consider contacting me, and letting me help you get back on track again…