How to Talk Without Fighting
Sometimes the best way to learn to communicate in a positive, bonding manner is to start with something other than the issue causing the current problem. This is not to say that things get better when a couple avoids conflict. It is to say that understanding and being understood makes a better foundation for dealing with problems.
The way one person learns to understand another is to, in some fashion, see the world through that person’s eyes. While that cannot be done perfectly, there are ways to do it well enough to establish genuine connection and communication on an honest rather than defensive level.
The simplest, and often the most effective, way to do that is to hear each other’s stories.
We are the sum of our experiences. Learning takes place at the deepest levels when we experience something. We may experience it ourselves by what we do or witness personally, or we may experience it through the vividly imagined experience of someone else. For example, if one sits on a hot stove, he learns not to do that again. If he witnesses someone sitting on a hot stove, he learns never to do it. If someone who sat on a hot stove when he was not present vividly describes the experience to him, his vicarious witnessing of the event through mentally living it will be enough for him to know that he does not want to sit on a hot stove.
For one person’s experience to have impact on another, the one telling the story has tell it with enough description of both fact and feeling that the hearer may “live” the event without actually having lived the event. Saying, “I once sat on a hot stove. It was not pleasant,” has not nearly the power of describing the event vibrantly, including the physical, mental, and emotional aspects.
So what does this have to do with adding fifteen years to your marriage?
If a couple spends as little as fifteen minutes a day sharing their stories with each other, in a short period they each will begin to understand the other.
For example, one wife told her husband about how she never felt “good enough” to please her father. Over the course of a few weeks, she shared story after story of things she did, his reactions, how she felt at the time, and how it still affects her today. He listened. Sometimes he asked questions, but they were always for clarification. He did not tell her what she should have done, how she should or should not feel about those events, or how she should just get over them. He realized his role was to understand and to try to see things from her perspective. As he did so, he began to understand the way she thought about certain things, why she did certain behaviors, and how his actions sometimes triggered responses that in reality were not to him but to the pain she continued to feel about her father.
Stories could be about anything. A husband telling his wife the stories of his sexual abuse by a male teacher when he was young. A wife sharing her stories about her mother’s harshness. But they do not have to be just stories of pain or sadness. A man might tell stories of how his father spent so much time with him. A woman might share how she loved the trips to her grandmother’s.