Clearly, it is not easy to say the right thing to the right person at the right time. I was thinking about this as I was reading an article called: "The Healthiest Way to Fight With Your Husband." Link here.
In truth, when I saw the title I was tempted to ignore the article. I do not encourage couples to fight; I do not want couples to learn how best to fight with each other: I do not consider reciprocal exchanges of verbal abuse to be healthy for a marriage.
Once I overcame my initial negative reaction, I found myself reading an interesting article about the importance of finding the right wording for certain sentiments. The article was telling wives that saying the right thing can defuse a tense conversation.
I regret that Sarah Elizabeth Edwards, or her editor, did not follow the good advice contained in the article and come up with a more felicitous title.
Saying the right thing will not just help you to avoid fights. It will produce amity and comity, and not just in marriages.
As the article reports, this means that it is not enough to encourage feuding couples to talk things out. Many couples do not have the verbal and social skills, to say nothing of the rhetorical savvy, to control their language well enough to turn a potential verbal sparring match into a negotiation. More often, they do not think, but let fly, and watch the sparring match turn into a brawl.
Research recommends that wives, in particular, use words that refer to thought processes, words that denote understanding and rationality. It is best to take a deep breath, and assert that you are thinking things over or are working to understand what you have heard.
Surely, thoughtfulness is better than an emotional outburst. It brings you closer to the other person and avoids the descent into drama and conflict.
Better yet, using words like think, understand, and reason will open a space in which negotiation can take place.
This research confirms what couples therapists often tell their clients. Couples who are prone to fighting should reply to contentious or tendentious remarks with something like: What I understand you're saying is....
While this exercise in reformulating is a good step, it should be accompanied by an additional step. A wife should assert that she accepts some of the validity of the point her husband is trying to make.
This is an important negotiation tactic, one that we should all practice in all of our everyday conversations. If we tell our friends and colleagues that we respect them sufficiently to take their ideas seriously, up to acknowledging that we grant them a measure of validity, the world will be a more peaceful place.
I am not sure why the article suggests that these skills are more apt for women than for men, but everyone, in my view, should practice the skill of not dismissing other people's ideas out of hand.
The fact is: if you are unwilling to hear your friends out, they will feel obliged to return the favor. And vice versa. If your goal is to find common ground, then you can take a step in the right direction by granting some validity to points of view you disagree with.