Joey slammed the door behind him. Bang! This was the third argument in two weeks. What was happening? He and Julie had been dating for six months and things were glorious. They had clicked almost immediately. They had a lot in common and the chemistry they shared was off the charts. So, why couldn’t they work through these little arguments that begun to creep into their fairy tale relationship?
We all have them. Tough conversations with someone we love. The conversations where we have an internal battle between wanting to say the right things and wanting to be right, to win. Most of us know that to preserve a relationship, being right is the wrong paradigm; the kiss of death. So, what can you say when you find yourself retreating to your corner and pulling out your favorite words or phrases that signal to your loved one your superiority?
Dr. Brene Brown, professor and author, suggests the following questions or sentence starters:
- I’m curious about . . . If your SO has made a statement, accusation, or criticism instead of shutting down the conversation by responding with one of your favorite conversation-ending quips, try using this instead. Staying curious about your SO is the best way to learn more about them and deepen the relationship. It invites them to continue to be vulnerable with you.
- Tell me more . . . This sentence starter can help you get more of the story, understand their thinking, and even uncover underlying childhood baggage your SO may still be carrying around. The key to this is to listen without judgment. Resist the urge to correct what they may share with you. Look at it as an opportunity to learn more about how your SO views the world.
- Walk me through that . . . This phrase can help you gently investigate the thought process of your SO, especially if you truly do not understand how they arrived at their conclusion. Listen patiently and attentively as they explain to you how they reached their conclusions. Remember, their logic may not be the same as yours, so this may be an opportunity to build understanding and empathy.
- What’s your passion around this? This is an excellent question to use when your SO has proposed something to you that they’re excited about but you just don’t get it. Do they want to become a pickle ball champion? Are they determined to run 100 marathons? Do they want to change careers? Any of these revelations could be shocking to you, but give them the opportunity to share their passion with you. At this point, don’t try to discourage them by looking at logistics. Just watch their eyes light up as they share their enthusiasm with you.
- Tell me why this doesn’t fit/work for you. This can help you in a conversation when you are negotiating or compromising on anything. Often when couples disagree, they shut down the conversation by not investigating the underlying objections their partner has. They key to having this work is to listen to what they say and be compassionate.
Using these words and phrases can help you avoid those awful stalemates that end with you driving off in your car angry and cursing your SO. These sentence starters signal to your loved one that you value them as a partner and that you sincerely want to understand where they are coming from. You may not completely embrace their perspective, but if you truly care about that person, you owe it to them to empathize with their reality. Successful couples know that if approached correctly, disagreements are an opportunity to increase your intimacy and strengthen your bond. It helps you avoid building contempt which, according to Gottman, is the grim reaper of relationships. There is nothing more beautiful than to have someone look you in the eye, pull you close, and tell you that even though they disagree with you, they value and love you more than they love their ego. That, my friends, is how true love is built.