Many disagreements come about because we don’t understand our partner’s intention, and s/he does not anticipate the impact that action or behavior will have on me. We have to remember that s/he did not grow up in our family, and s/he is not going to act “right” [meaning the way we expect or want] at times. We start other fights because we’re tired or stressed out. Sometimes we just want to ‘zing’ our partner.
What happens next is that within 1/200th of a second, one or both of us goes to the basic stance of fight, flight or freeze (as our brains are wired to do). This is why our species still exists on the planet; so in the big picture, this is a useful trait. In our household, it’s a stressful trait, but has a place for healthy boundaries and so on.
If we can understand this, we can take a step back and not take it so personally. We can make an effort to s l o w t h i n g s d o w n.
To have a healthy disagreement:
1. Be sure it’s only verbal (just say no to name calling). People have differing reactions to yelling (see previous paragraph about the family we grew up in). If we want to be heard, we have to figure out how to do that. Yelling might not help.
2. Make sure that for each of these poor interactions to have five good ones (per Dr. John Gottman’s extensive research, this is the magic ratio for stable couples; some negativity is required within a couple).
3. When we do this in front of our kids, make sure to do part of our making up in front of our kids.
4. We’re human, people disagree, maybe we had a bad day; our perspectives will differ on certain topics.
5. Oh, now make a repair, and get on with life.
Try any of these phrases to attempt repair:
“That didn’t go very well, can we try again.”
“I wasn’t listening, would you tell me again.”
“I got defensive. Give me a minute, and I’ll try to see it from your perspective.”
I’m guessing you had an intention and I was having an impact, so I don’t know what your intention was. Would you tell me your intention?”
If you want to read a great book about intention and impact (and other important topics), check out “Difficult Conversations,” it’s written by Stone, Patton and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Team.