Every relationship experiences friction if it is honest and lasting. No two people can always agree, and it is okay to disagree. Many times two mature individuals will even agree to disagree. Still, there is a healthy way to discuss difficult issues and there are some approaches that should be avoided. Here are some tips for healthy discussion.
The Personal Pronoun
It is tempting to use the pronoun “you” during an argument as in “you made me feel this way” or “because of you, I did this.” Here is the problem with that attitude: no one can make a person do anything. You always have choices, even if those choices are between bad and worse decisions. Try to stamp on your pride to preserve your relationship.
Instead, describe the way you feel using the personal pronoun: “I feel sad about what happened” or “after this happened, I was angry.” Indicate that when an event took place, “I chose to make this decision.” In other words, own your feelings and decisions even if your spouse chooses to be immature.
There are two reasons to take this approach. One is to retain control of personal choice. Once the other person is made to feel responsible, he or she is also being given control of your actions. That’s a great way to decline into a feeling of helplessness, bitterness, or even the victim mentality. When people lay blame, it’s tempting to start a mental ledger and keep a record of all the wrong things a person did. A healthier idea would be to remember how you felt at various times during a relationship for better or worse and consider whether a watershed has been reached where you should seek professional help. Are you constantly sad or angry? That’s not healthy, no matter what the cause is.
The second reason to use the word “I” is to avoid laying blame. Bad things happen. People make mistakes. That does not mean anyone has to be blamed. While a spouse might respond to “I” statements by choosing to take responsibility, blaming just leads to defensiveness and a wall goes up. Blaming is aggressive and judgmental and denies the validity of another person’s point of view. There’s a good chance both parties need to make amends. Better word choice and a less aggressive approach are more effective. A spouse might soften when not under attack.
It helps if two people can recognize how the other one feels. Even if you don’t agree and are okay with not being persuaded to the other person’s point of view, respect is critical. Note how the other person feels by saying “I hear you telling me” and reflecting what the partner has just told you.
Choosing to trust someone with difficult emotions is a big step. Two people should feel safe raising tough issues. Don’t make a person feel stupid for feeling the way he or she feels. Always show love and respect even if you don’t understand; otherwise, the flow of emotion sharing will stop. This will mark the end of a meaningful relationship.