Relationships, Part 40 : Constructive Conflict: Learn Something

taking-tests kid
You keep having the same argument with your partner. You’re always going around in a circle, on and on and on. You never get anywhere, never resolve anything. You’re getting sick of it, and maybe a little bit sick of her. What are you doing wrong?

You’re not learning anything.

Remember what school was like? You sat at a desk and listened to the teacher. You squirmed in your seat until recess came. You formed groups and made presentations. You wrote papers, completed equations, started art projects, and sang songs. You groaned about all the homework you had and came up with creative reasons you didn’t complete it. You went up to the board. You raised your hand. Remember all that?

If that’s all you did in school, you didn’t learn a thing.

School also involved taking tests, receiving grades, getting told by the teacher if you were right or wrong. You had to have feedback to know whether you were on the right path. Without it, you’d get lost.

If you didn’t have feedback, you would not learn, and, if you thought you learned, you wouldn’t know that you got it right.

If all you are doing when you have an argument with your partner is telling her how you feel, then you are not learning anything. If all you are doing is answering her questions or responding to her accusations, then you are as clueless at the end of those conversations as you were in the beginning.

If you do not have feedback from your partner, you’re not learning a thing.

You should never have a serious conversation without inviting feedback. Never say anything to your partner, without having her demonstrate that she understands it. Never assume you know something she’s trying to say without checking with her first.

You’ve seen it in the movies.

The captain, anxious to avoid the iceberg, shouts to the helmsman, Hard right rudder!

The helmsman, before he does a thing, answers back, Hard right rudder, Sir.

That’s feedback. Checking that you understand something before you proceed.

Let me show you how it works in a marital context.

Your wife comes home from work and says to you, “I work all day while you’re home playing video games. The least you could do is pick up the house and make dinner so I don’t have to do it.”

You might have a lot to say about that. You may have a retort ready. You don’t play video games all day. Your two year old just made that mess in the past ten minutes. You were going to take her out for dinner. You might want to attack, call her a bitch, bring up something she does that annoys you. All those things would start a fight, or continue one.

Before you do any of those things, check to see if you heard her right, first.

Say something like this: “You want me to pick up the house and make dinner for when you come home because you think all I do is play video games. Is that right?”

You are not agreeing with her or conceding. You are not accusing her of something or starting a fight. You are simply reflecting back what you thought she said.

She may say, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying. It’s about time you listened.”

She might make some minor correction because you didn’t hear it right or she didn’t say it right. Most of the time, giving feedback de-escalates the situation. She’s likely to back down from her original statement.

“No, honey, I realize you do more than play video games all day. I’m just tired, I guess.”
Doesn’t that sound better than a fight?

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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