Andrew and Leslie were having an argument about their sex life. He wanted to make love more often and was tired of always getting rejected. She wanted to feel more emotionally connected to him to spark her desire to make love; she was tired of having sex feel like a physical need rather than an expression of love and intimacy. Each time the subject came up, each spouse felt attacked. You know what the outcome of their evening was before I even tell you: Andrew did not have sex that night and Leslie still had no emotional intimacy. Instead, they continued the argument and felt their marriage was hopeless.
The next time you have a chance, take a look at two people who are arguing with each other and you will notice two things present in their argument. First, both people are struggling to be heard while neither one is listening. Second, two different subjects are being discussed simultaneously. Andrew and Leslie both thought they were talking about their intimacy issues, but in reality, Andrew was talking about his frustration and hurt, while Leslie was expressing her feelings of loneliness and insignificance. The argument was about two completely different subjects, and neither one was listening to the other. Any marriage counselor will tell you that within every great marriage you’ll find two good listeners. https://www.advocacycircle.com/marriage-counseling/communication-and-anger/
It is impossible for an argument to start when two people are discussing one subject at a time. Next time you and your spouse are moving toward a heated discussion, try focusing on one person’s point of view at a time. There’s no law that says you have to agree with him or her. And listen for the things that are not said. Summarize what you heard. Then take your own turn to describe your point of view and ask for the same courtesy of a simple paraphrase.
Andrew and Leslie might have made love that night had Andrew tried to learn more about Leslie’s feelings of no emotional connection. Had he asked her a few open and honest questions about what might give her the connection she craves, it might have made him a happier man. And Leslie could have expressed compassion for her husband’s feelings of rejection. We have all felt rejected or frustrated at one time and can easily empathize with those feelings. Leslie would have felt the emotional connection to Andrew that she desperately wanted had she only listened and asked him a few good questions, and the argument never would have happened in the first place.
Being right is so overrated. Worse, feeling right implies that you made someone else feel completely wrong. In truth, two people can have a complete difference of opinion yet both can be entirely right because we are all entitled to our own points of view. No argument necessary. A person is not necessarily wrong because they do not see things as you see them.
The next time you think you have completely buried your spouse with facts and have completely vanquished your opponent, take a look inside the eyes of the person you love most in life and rethink whether you truly feel victorious when your spouse looks defeated and hopeless. Pretty unlikely. In an argument, the spouse who wins loses every time.
We all like to be heard and understood. Try to put the same amount of importance to listening and understanding. Your relationship will thrive. And remember, whenever you feel you have won an argument at the expense of your spouse, it really means that you both lost miserably.
Lisa Ryan LPC is a marriage counselor and infidelity specialist, in private practice in Westport, who provides help to residents of Weston, Darien, Norwalk, New Canaan, Wilton and Fairfield.