The latest findings from Howard Markman, professor of psychology University of Denver, published in June in the “Journal of Family Psychology,” show that couples who reported they had negative communication before marriage—criticizing each other’s opinions, rolling their eyes, leaving the room—were more likely to end up divorcing. Although research shows that the biggest issues couples argue about are money, sex, work, kids and housework, we all know the possibilities for conflict are endless. It may be helpful to note that the experts make no distinction between arguing, fighting, bickering or even nagging (I was horrified to learn). They’re all ways of expressing disagreement with another person that often become destructive, with one or both people using insults, clamming up or storming off. Why do we do this? For starters, many of us learned by watching our parents have destructive arguments—or bottle up their anger and give each other the silent treatment. We’ve also been raised to believe that success means winning—and if one side wins, the other must lose. Now, here’s the good news: It’s possible to learn to argue in a much healthier way. The first thing you have to do is talk to the other person. “The longer a conflict stews, the more likely we are going to get into catastrophe mode,” says Jennifer Samp, associate professor in the speech communication department at the University of Georgia and a fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Research. “We are mulling it and thinking about it and it will become bigger and scarier and more threatening than if we are able to talk about it if it just comes up,” she says. Dr. Markman has developed a method, for helping couples settle disputes, called the “speaker-listener technique,” which he details in a newly revised edition of a book he wrote with several colleagues: “Fighting for Your Marriage.” He says that couples who have a disagreement should call a “couple’s meeting” to discuss the issue without looking for a solution—and set a time limit of 15 minutes. They may flip a coin to see who speaks first. The person who wins the toss, let’s say it’s the wife, should explain her position in two to three statements. Her husband should listen, then repeat what he heard, to show that he understood. The wife should then speak again, further explaining her position. And, again, the husband should listen and repeat her points. They then reverse roles and repeat those same steps. .”A lot of times, all you need is to be listened to,” says Dr. Markman, who tells couples that by the end of this exercise, it’s likely that an answer to their problem will be evident.
By Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein
“Very often in everyday life one sees that by losing one’s temper with someone who has already lost his, one does not gain anything but only sets out upon the path of stupidity.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan