I continue to learn about how to work with relationships as I do it. I hope this shows that I am progressing, getting better at the craft of helping a couple change. I learned a lesson in “arguing simply” today as I got in the middle of a couple’s argument and took it apart. I really did this by doing a few different things that might instruct you on how you could change your arguing and get better at it. First, I made them stop the activity they were doing, that is, arguing in their old way (which included talking at the same time, pushing too hard with their thoughts, giving all kinds of reasons that they were right–these were just a few of the patterns they were caught in), their same old pattern.
Stop doing the same thing that doesn’t work.
Next I took one piece of what they were talking about and got them to focus on that. I used yes/no questions, I kept stopping them from telling me why their side of the argument was so right and got each partner to answer the yes or no question, building a resolution to their problem.
Stick to one piece at a time. Get down to the basics of what makes up that piece.
Then I moved toward how close together or far apart they were from each other on the issue. In this case, it was amazing (but not that uncommon) that they actually agreed on the issue (the number of times they could each take a short vacation each year), but they still wanted to argue about it. But they were much less argumentative as things got narrowed down. And when I showed them that they actually agreed, they stopped arguing.
If you agree, stop arguing about it; if you don’t realize that you agree, make sure you don’t agree by clarifying each side.
If they had not agreed, I would have worked towards a compromise, learning about them in the process. Almost all the time there is a disagreement, couples can get to agreement (sometimes that is a compromise, sometimes it is not) if I keep them working on one idea at a time. But we also often, at this point, move to how one or the other feels about the issue or a solution or agreement. This (feelings about it) also is crucial to getting a couple to work together about an issue. If one or the other agrees, but with resentment, we have to address the resentment if we are goint to make things work.
If there is resentment, then you don’t have a very good agreement that will probably fail (unless the couple have a power differential, which brings up different issues).
In this particular case, I kept working the other pieces of their perceived differences about the topic (travel, in this case). After getting the first agreement, it was much easier to complete the other aspects of the topic (longer vacations, overnights, travel together). They felt that we had accomplished something, and they had–they had resolved something that they had fought about for a long time. And that is a skill worth improving in any relationship.
Dr. Kraft has over three decades of counseling experience, more than 25 of those as a practicing therapist in Omaha. Beyond this experience, he’s also continued his education through workshops and conferences to keep up with the best research and therapeutic methods. A recognized expert in his field, he teaches seminars to marriage counseling professionals.
Dr. Kraft earned his doctorate, as well as his bachelors & masters before that, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. On top of being a therapist in Omaha, he is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Creighton University School of Medicine, where he teaches residents about psychotherapy, and attends ongoing training to stay current in the field.