I often work with couples who tell me, “I can’t talk to him/her about …”
Wanting to discuss a matter and actually being able to do it are often two entirely different things. I’ve noticed something that greatly interferes with the goal of achieving a healthy conversation: Often people think they are discussing a matter when they are really starting an argument, creating dissonance.
Have you ever had someone persuade you to buy something you didn’t want? Go somewhere you didn’t want to be? Do something you didn’t want to do? Most of the time, the person doing the persuading is unaware of your discomfort, and is convinced that what they have done is of little or no consequence.
This is often the same mistake when someone intends to discuss a matter but ends up starting an argument. They use persuasion to get you to agree, dismissing any disagreement or dismantling any challenging views. The difference is that they think they are discussing a matter, when in fact, they are debating it.
Good dialog should be an open exchange of thoughts and ideas without pressure to agree with an opposing view. Often, the need to make a decision is suspended. This lowers defenses and creates an inviting, safe space for conversation.
Too often, couples approach conversations with their decision(s) made ahead of time, coming to the table with their points, ready to persuade the other person to see things from their point of view. This approach begins with a challenge, heightens defenses, and is pressure driven; often the “discussion” becomes a battle of wits and there is almost always a “loser.” This approach is best used in a court of law between lawyers, but not between couples trying to dialog.
I often challenge couples to take two things off the table in order to achieve healthy dialog: 1) the need to be agreed with and 2) the need to make a decision. I then ask couples to “marinate” on all the discussion points and to follow up with each other at a later time. The goal is two-fold: either to simply share thoughts and ideas, or to arrive at a compromised decision through a process of marinating on shared views.
If you find that you and your spouse spend more time arguing and not enough time engaging in healthy dialog, I encourage you to seek out a licensed therapist who can help you reach your goals of healthy communication.