The Crazy Cycle. That’s what Emerson Eggerichs calls it in his book, Love & Respect. Any married couple will readily identify it once they read the description. A conversation that goes nuclear almost before you even know what just happened. He says something that sounds unloving. She zings back with something that sounds disrespectful. Or perhaps she starts it—doesn’t matter. It quickly devolves into another crazy cycle.
Some arguments catch couples by surprise. They stumble into it and don’t recognize it until emotions are ignited. Yet other arguments can be predicted a mile away. The subject matter has been trouble in the past—perhaps many times—and unless you approach it differently, it will be trouble again.
Remember the adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,”? The only thing worse than a horrible argument is to have the argument a second time!
In the first chapter of what was probably the first book written in the Bible’s New Testament, we find this admonition in James 1:19:
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”
The book of James was a primer on Christian living. This simple statement represents one of the most fundamental principles in getting along with others. And it will work wonders in preserving harmony in your marriage.
The next time you and your spouse have to talk about something that’s been a powder-keg in the past, here are some tactics that will help you to approach it differently and constructively:
Quick To Hear
- Listen to what’s really being said. Being quick to hear is listening to what the other is saying with the intent to genuinely understand. Sometimes it’s listening to what’s not being said as well. One of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people is “seek to understand, then to be understood.” Most of us work hard to be understood. Start by really trying to understand what your spouse is concerned about, troubled by, hurt by, etc.
Slow To Speak
- Repeat back what you think your spouse just said. We all think we know what was said, but we all have our own filters and can easily misinterpret. Before you fire back something based on what you think your spouse said, take a breath then calmly reply with, “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying…”. Repeat until they confirm you understand correctly.
Ask more questions. Rather than arguing your point, continue to gain as much clarity as you can. If an issue is particularly emotionally-charged or has some history to it, ask your spouse to describe as best as they can or give you an example of how they makes them feel. And ask with a genuine desire to understand.
Choose your words and tone wisely. That’s the “slow” part in speaking. Take a moment to consider the impact of what you are about to say.
Slow To Anger
Don’t see your spouse as the enemy. Even if your spouse lashes out at you in their hurt, frustration, or anger, don’t take it personally. Have compassion on your spouse for what they are feeling that’s prompting such a response. Look for the problem behind the problem. See this as an opportunity to bring them some relief by understanding and not making them feel worse by your rash words.
Keep looking for the mutual win. Most destructive arguments are about an either/or. Two people striving for a their own, one-sided victory. That’s not the goal. You want to keep working toward a win for both of you. Identify the non-negotiables and flex every where else.
For the argument that blind-sides both of you, you’ll probably have to start with the slow-to-speak tactic—put your hand or duct tape over your mouth. Agree to push the pause button and revisit later when cooler heads prevail to head off the anger. Then, start again with being quick to hear.
Quick to hear. Slow to speak. Slow to anger. That’s a good affirmation to include in your morning routine every day. If you have an unresolved disagreement lurking in the background, talk about these tactics with your spouse and propose undoing the past and tackling the issue again with this new approach. Starting the conversation with a kiss and holding hands while talking makes it even better.
Question: What tactic do you use to defuse destructive arguments? Share your answer in the comments below.