Jeffosophy: a collection of possibly useful things I have learned over the years.



Ira and Jeffrey strangling each other 

Rules for a Serious Discussion

I believe that most arguments between couples are the result of a serious discussions gone wrong. It starts with one person criticising the actions of the other, continues with denials, accusations and counter-accusations and, before you know it, someone is going to sleep on the sofa tonight or, in a worst case scenario, you are strangling each other (as in the image above).

This is a pity because serious discussions, especially those that do not descend into arguments and strangulation, are important to a relationship. They enable you to understand each other better, to find compromises over sensitive issues and to work together to make your relationship grow.

Here are my rules for having a serious discussion. I suggest you share them with your sweetheart when you are not having a serious discussion and agree to follow them when you want to discuss a sensitive issue. While these rules are designed for romantic couples, they can be applied to serious discussions with friends, family members and even colleagues at work - with slight modification, of course.


1. Frame with Feelings and Avoid Absolutes

When you want to criticise or complain about something your partner has done, frame your issues as being your observations and your feelings rather than facts. For example, don't say, "Whenever we go out, you flirt with other girls!" Instead, say, "When we go out, it seems to me like you often flirt with other girls and that makes me feel insecure."

Do you see the difference? When you state a criticism as fact (first example), your partner can and probably will deny it: "No, I don't!" And, rather than talking about how you feel, you get into an argument about whether or not your partner flirts with other girls.

But, when you state your concern as a feeling, your partner cannot legitimately disagree with you. She cannot dispute how you feel; only you know how you feel. Secondly, by telling your partner that her actions make you feel insecure, you make the discussion about you and your feelings, rather than your partner's actions. Initially, this may seem selfish. But it is not. Quite the opposite. You are taking on responsibility for your observations and how they make you feel. Instead of feeling she needs to defend herself, your partner is motivated to make you feel better. She can reassure you that she is just talking with other girls rather than flirting with them. She can reassure you that she cares about you. In future, she can behave less flirtatiously with other girls in order to make you feel better.

It is far more motivating to do something to make your partner happy, rather than to stop doing something because your partner is pissed off with you. By framing the issue as being about your feelings, you motivate your partner to help make you feel better.

In addition, avoid absolutes. Don't say, "you never do any housework!" If nothing else, this is probably untrue. Likely your partner does at least some housework and possibly more than you realise. Hence, this statement is likely to lead to an argument about housework.

On the other hand, if you say, "I feel I am doing most of the housework and it feels unfair to me," the discussion is about what you do and how you feel, rather than an accusation. Moreover, by using "most of the housework" rather than "all of the housework" you lose the absolute. This makes it easier to have a discussion rather than an argument.


2. Listen without Interruption

If the serious conversation is going in the other direction: in other words, she is criticising your actions, listen to her carefully and only interrupt her if you did not hear or understand something. You can say what you need to say soon. For now, avoid any urge to interrupt your partner and deny the accusations. Let her say everything she needs to say. This is incredibly important. Your partner has an issue with you and, more than anything else, she wants to be heard. She wants you to understand how you feel. By lettering her speak without interruption, you do this.

Even if your partner is not following the first rule (Frame with Feelings, above), keep quiet and listen attentively. Later, you can share this article with her and suggest you both follow it in future disagreements.


3. Thank Your Partner for Sharing

Once your partner has finished saying what she needs to say, thank her for sharing her feelings with you. Doing so validates those feelings and this is super important. In many disputes, just knowing that your partner has really listened to, absorbed and acknowledged a concern is more important than winning any argument that might grow out of your dispute.

Do bear in mind that by thanking your partner you are validating her feelings, but not necessarily agreeing with her points of criticism.

For example, imagine your partner says, "I feel that we spend more time talking about the merger at your work and seldom talk about my work; and this makes me feel you are not interested in my work."

When you reply, "thank you for sharing that with me," you are not acknowledging that you agree with her feelings, only that you acknowledge her feelings and appreciate that she has shared them with you. If you disagree with her feelings, you can discuss that in a moment.

In addition, thanking your partner for sharing her feelings sets the tone for a respectful conversation.


4. Summarise

It is often a good idea to summarise your partner's concerns to ensure you understand them correctly and to reassure her that you understood correctly. Doing so further validates your partner's concern and ensures the serious discussion addresses the right issues. And this is important. It can easily happen that you and your partner see an issue and its solution differently. For example, if your partner complains that she feels sex is becoming rather boring, you may feel that she wants less sex when, in fact, she wants to explore more varied sex activities. Summarising her feelings ensures you are addressing the same thing.

Start your summary with something like, "If I understand correctly, you feel..." or "So, what you are saying is that you feel..." This allows her to correct you if she feels you have not correctly addressed her concerns.


5. Question

You can and should ask any questions you have about your partner's concerns. If you are at all unclear about what is upsetting your partner, ask questions. For example, if your partner complains you spend too much time with your best friend, ask questions to work out what your partner is unhappy about. Does she dislike your best friend? Is she jealous? Does she feel that you share more with your friend than you do with her? Does she simply regret that when you spend more time with your friend, you end up spending less with your partner?


6. Respond

Remember how, in Rule 2 above, I told you to listen without interruption? Now you can share your side of the issue. While you do this, your partner should listen without interruption as in Rule 1. If your partner does interrupt you (perhaps because you have not shown her these rules yet), ask her politely to listen.


7. Repeat

Once you are finished saying what you need to say, your partner should thank you for sharing (Rule 4), question (5), summarise (Rule 6) and Respond (Rule 7) if necessary. Repeat these three steps if need be.


8. Decide on Action

Once you have both expressed your concerns and understand each other, you should decide on an action. Otherwise the issue will surely crop up again. You may accept your partner's initial criticism and promise to make an effort to change your behaviour. For example, perhaps your partner feels you interrupt her often when she is speaking and this makes her feel that you are not truly listening to her. You acknowledge that this is a bad habit, tell her that you really do listen and reassure her that you will make an effort to stop interrupting.

You may decide on a two way action. If your partner feels you are not doing enough housework, but you feel that you are doing too much housework, you might agree to make a list of household chores and assign them fairly to each of you.

Sometimes, reassurance is enough. If your partner feels that you have been acting aloof and are not responsive to her recently, you might explain that problems at work are bothering you and that, of course, you love your partner very much. (And, you might agree to be more communicative about problems at work.) 

However, there will be occasions when you cannot change something that makes your partner unhappy, either because you feel her desired outcome is unfair or because there are external reasons why you cannot change your actions to please your partner. For example, perhaps your partner is unhappy because you are away too often on business trips. However you have a great job with a promising future that demands that you travel regularly. Quitting the job to please your partner is not a wise option. You would surely come to regret it and blame your partner for spoiling your career development.

In this case you can still find actions that make things easier for your partner, such as: communicating more frequently when you are away, so your partner knows you are thinking about her, arranging regular video calls and sending short messages throughout the day to remind your partner that you are thinking about her. Ira and I, for example, send each other a special emoji when thinking of the other. Ira and I do this when we are apart for whatever reason. If I am thinking about her, but it is not a good time to talk, I'll send her the emoji so she knows I am thinking about her. She does the same.


9. Kiss, Hug, Etc

Finally, kiss or hug your partner and reassure her of your love. I have heard that making love after a serious discussion can be particularly intense - in a good way, however I cannot back this up scientifically. Nevertheless, I suggest you give it a try if you are both in the mood.

Needless-to-say, if you are applying these rules to a serious discussion with colleagues, do not even try to kiss or hug or, especially, make love with your colleague after a serious discussion. It will only get you into deep trouble; the kind of trouble that not even a serous discussion can resolve.




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