The next time you go head-to-head with each other on big issues, follow these rules.
It makes no sense. If you want to be a doctor, you spend countless hours studying medicine. If you want to be a lawyer, you spend years of your life in law school. But the most important thing in our lives — our relationships — are just supposed to "come naturally."
What "naturally" means is what we grew up with. If you behave "naturally," you'll get a relationship very similar to your parents' marriage. When you notice that you're both fighting like your parents did, you are behaving according to nature. It doesn't have to be this way. There are some vital skills to develop if you want to have a different kind of relationship. Being able to have a fair fight is high on the list. Fortunately, there are some simple rules that anyone can practice.
1. Use "I" statements. This is a basic idea, shared by most communications programs. It comes from the fact that you can only speak your own truth. Reading the other person's mind is just not possible. And telling the other person what's wrong with his/her feelings is a declaration of war. "I" statements start out like: "I feel … " or "I think … " followed by a description or a thought. ("I feel like you're an idiot" is not an "I" statement.)
2. Slow down. Many people get so excited by their own thoughts that they can't wait to express them, even when their partner is in the middle of a sentence. I've observed people break in when the other takes a breath and then try to excuse their rudeness by saying, "But I thought you had finished!" At this point, the pressure to talk is so great that you hear only the sound and the break in sound, not the message. Basically, you've lost all perspective. You may as well be animals roaring at one another. When you're in the heat of the moment, this is understandable, but it tends to get you nowhere in the argument.
3. Listen. Take the time to listen to what your partner is saying. The more people I work with, the more I realize how hard real listening is. It involves not only containing your own thoughts and feelings, but also putting yourself in the other's shoes. Listening is the only thing that can actually bring us to understanding.
4. Mirror. This is one of the most powerful tools one can bring to dialogue. "Mirror" means just that: repeat back to your partner what you heard her say. If she agrees that you've "got" it, you're golden. It's surprising, though, how often what you hear is not — or not exactly — what your partner has just said. If this is the case, ask for clarification. Keep reading ...
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