You may have heard of The Four Horsemen. It’s an apocalyptic image and term in our culture. But did you know that the Four Horsemen are probably actually living in your bedroom?!
Arguing and conflict that includes criticism, defensiveness and other elements of Dr. John Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse predict that a marriage will fail about 5 ½ years after the wedding. So, whether you’re already married, or imagine yourself moving towards marriage with your love-bug, you can’t afford (emotionally or financially!) to let the arguments and disconnection continue.
In this short article, I’ll talk about some powerful ways to stop arguing so much, AND to get your partner to listen to you more! Seriously!
1. Stop The Arguing
You may have heard that relationships require a give and take. Well, here’s the hardest part of getting what you want from your partner. One of you needs to step out of the cycle of escalation and criticism.
Arguing is often borne out of a desire to be seen as right! We all like to be right, to FEEL right. It feels more solid, and good. We think we’ll get what we want when we are right or seen as right by others.
Problem is, asserting how RIGHT we are, seldom leads to a genuine acknowledgement and agreement from those we want it from the most. More likely, they also want to be seen as right and feel that “right” feeling! Duh, they’re human too, just like us. And so, the battle ensues.
Step 1 - Softening
Next time you feel you’re partner sees you as wrong, or doesn’t see how amazingly insightful, intelligent and full of foresight you obviously are…try this…
Try slowing down and pausing. (If you need to, take a short time-out in your discussion.)
Ask yourself what you are needing right now.
Then, see if you can discover what’s beneath that need. (i.e., to feel safe, to feel loved, important, wanted, valuable, etc.)
See if this can help you soften a bit. It can shift you from feeling your partner/the other is an obstacle or against you, and put you in touch with the simple reality of the need you’re feeling and your attempt to get that need met.
Sharing vulnerability and need is the antidote to The Four Horsemen, so see if you can uncover the need and vulnerability you’re experiencing and let your partner in on it. It’s the honey vs. vinegar (criticism and blame) theory: You get more with honey than you do with vinegar.
These are first steps at working towards collaboration rather than confrontation or conflict. Slowing down, being more mindful of the process you’re in and sharing vulnerably are the first steps.
2. Give The Gift You Want To Receive
The next step is actually a big ask. I’m asking you to listen to your partner, first; let that open up a new kind of space and interaction between you; and then, ask for the gift you’ve just given and demonstrated.
“What!?” “You want ME to do the listening that I want my partner to do for me,” you may be asking?!
Mmmm, yeah, I know it stings. I’m sorry to be so direct, but in my experience, this is the medicine your relationship needs. You both need to take it; ideally, you both will together, but if not, who’s going to take it first?
Again, if the old axiom is true, you GET more with honey than with vinegar. It may be a very big ask, but it really is a big key to healing. Whether it’s in international politics, workplace negotiations, or romantic relationships, we have to be able to come to the table with goodwill, collaboration and openness if we are going to make real progress.
Step 2 - Listening
Try to find some space inside yourself where you can open up and be curious about your partner’s point of view and experience. This is THE key.
Just for the moment, set aside your position, objection, need, etc. Just for the moment.
Soften into curiosity and openness to the possibility that your partner isn’t the enemy, but has some very legitimate and important needs and feelings of their own that have been hidden from your view due to the conflict and arguing.
From that place, try: Listening with curiosity, non-defensively reflecting back what you hear, empathizing with how they see and feel about things, and validating – sharing how their experience makes sense to you.
This is an amazing GIFT you’re giving to your partner. Imagine how good it would feel to be given this gift by them…the gift of feeling genuinely listened to and understood. Can you give this gift? If you can’t, why are you expecting them to give it to you?
If you can, then perhaps they will also be willing to give the gift in response. Go ahead and ask. It may help to be explicit about the fact that you want to listen to them, model how to listen to and be understanding, and then ask them to do the same for you. And for your relationship.
So, coming full circle, stopping the painful and destructive escalation of conflict-filled arguing, criticism, and defensiveness is directly tied to listening and being listened to. It’s not easy, but it sure is a whole lot better then a failed relationship or a failed marriage a few years down the road. The stakes ARE high. And you and your relationship ARE worth it!
This is not rocket science, but honestly, it’s not necessarily easy either. Many couples, in my opinion all couples, need the support and guidance of a good couples and relationship counselor to help learn these new moves in your relationship. The old painful and ineffective dance steps you’ve known may need to be deconstructed and the new ones integrated.
If things don’t click at first keep trying, and if you decide you want some help and guidance along the way, I’m here to help you like I’ve helped many other couples to improve their communication and experience of feeling connected and in love.