A young couple recently came in for help with their marriage of only two years. When I asked each for her/his perspective, it became almost a court scene with two battling attorneys. Each wanted to prove her/his point. In essence, they both wanted to “win,” and they were clearly keeping score of who had won what argument. It was amusingly like a court case complete with opening statements, cross-examination, rebuttal arguments, and closing arguments. I had to let them vent before I could begin to help. When both were satisfied with their respective case presentations, they were ready to listen. I thanked them both but explained it was not my job to act as a judge and jury.
Relationships are NOT sports contests. Stop keeping score. Unless both people “win,” both people lose. The perceived “loser” in an argument will always find a way to get even, even if it’s in a passive-aggressive manner. Keeping score is one of the most sure-fire ways of forcing a relationship of the tracks.
So, what should couples do when they disagree? The first step it to clearly define what the disagreement is about and not drag other issues into the discussion. Sometimes it’s fine just to realize the issue is not as important to one as to the other. In such a case, just go along with it. This only works if the other person also goes along with something that may not be as important to him/her. The other way is to figure out a compromise. Neither person will get exactly what she/he wants, but both people will get something wanted. Yes, sometimes there are issues that both people consider extremely important, and there really is no middle ground, but almost all the time a skilled therapist can help the couple find the common ground.
This couple’s argument was about which family to spend holidays with. Both respective families always celebrated holidays together. Because they had dated a very short time before getting married, they never really thought about holidays. We first listed all the holidays. We talked about several solutions, but the one they both liked was rotating holidays each year.
Because they were both so caught up in keeping score and winning, they were unable to come up with solutions on their own. Changing how they both approached disagreements by emphasizing problem-solving instead of keeping score, the couple now had a new tool with which to address future disagreements. As any couple married for any length of time will tell you, there will ALWAYS be disagreements.
By the way, they are both attorneys!
Tikkun Olam- heal the world. Leave it a better place when you leave.