We’ve been together nearly 11 years, Jake and I. We’ve never split like some couples who start out young and I’m so proud to say that we are still madly in love with each other. The glue of our relationship is trust, respect and love and we both know without a doubt that it will last forever, as long as we keep doing what we’re doing right!
This will be a series of posts revealing the best advice I ever read that allowed Jake and I to develop a wonderful marriage, which I firmly believe was doomed otherwise!
It’s important that when you see the advice I’m sharing (which I was given a long time ago) try not to go with your first reaction. Had I gone with my first reaction after reading it myself, I probably wouldn’t be with Jake–at least not in a healthy, happy relationship!
Let me start out by telling you how I came to have these secrets for a healthy relationship.
About 10 years ago a friend of Jake’s handed him about a dozen books and said, “My wife said to give these to your girlfriend.” I thought that was sort of weird since I’d never met her. And, who was she to assume I wanted or needed to read relationship books? I laugh now, because ONE: those books saved my relationship with Jake over and over again and TWO: she and I are great friends now and I am beyond grateful to her for sharing those books with me!
I remember reading the titles and thinking Cheesy! They were titles like, How to Have a Happy Marriage or Build a Marriage of Love and Respect. I wasn’t even sure I needed to read the books and for many months they sat on the bookshelf untouched and unwanted. It would have been rude to give them right back, but I was pretty sure at that time that relationship woes should be naturally addressed and there couldn’t be anything in those books I didn’t already know! (Oh the pride I had at 21!)
Well, of course I was wrong.
And just a few months later I started reading the books, desperately wanting to save my already-failing relationship.
I must apologize because I have no idea the actual titles or the authors’ names. You see, I had no idea at the time of reading those books that it would eventually be because of them that I would have a wonderfully amazing marriage of love and respect! But I DO remember every piece of advice I read and I want to do my part to spread that wisdom to any and every couple who desires a happy relationship. Who knows, maybe YOU will look back one day and think that post made such a difference in my relationship. I hope so!
I feel like so much more credit should be given to those authors…and you should know that I am certainly not a marriage expert and I don’t have a perfect relationship. I do however, understand what it takes to have a happy one and one in which peace, love, harmony and respect can exist. So if that interests you, read the rest of this with a very open mind!
Change Requires Brain Expansion
I say that because it practically hurt my brain to accept the advice I read. I remember really struggling to believe some of it! I think some of the reason for that is that I’m hard-headed, I’m prideful and I can be somewhat bratty too.
I know it doesn’t quite work this way–even if there are changes within the brain when we learn something new–but I remember being in such a battle within my head to accept these new ideas.
It also took a REAL desire for a healthy relationship for me to say, OK, I’LL TRY THIS! And for Jake too, I’m sure. So if you’re anything like us, it will require some true openness on your part and in your heart for both you and your partner to give some of these suggestions a try, but we are proof that it’s worth it!
I would say you ought to also think about whether or not you want your relationship to work and last forever. Are you currently in a serious relationship? Are you both committed? If the answer is yes, then the following is definitely meant for you!
So here it is…
One of the first books I read offered advice about how to argue in healthy ways with your partner. I immediately leveled with the advice. It wasn’t hard to see that doing THIS would absolutely make disagreements easier to get through.
Healthy Arguing Means Being On The Same Side, Same Team
The author explained that typically when couples argue they each remain on opposite sides from one another, arguing their side and their points, with the goal of making the other person see it their way and “lose the fight”. That space and separation between the two allows for animosity, unkind words and worse to come out. And more often it ends up being a completely useless, unproductive conversation, probably even ending in tears and apologies. It’s more like a battle of wits!
Does that sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry, most of us find it normal! In fact, I had never given it that much thought really. For me, as long as there was no name calling or hitting, all is fair, right?
But arguing in an unhealthy way is toxic in a relationship.
Think about your last argument with the person you’re in a relationship with right now or one from your last relationship. Was it you against them? When you have disagreements do you both tend to pit against each other, trying to make the other person give in and see it your way? It can be hard to admit that you don’t argue fairly. I’m sure you’d like to–or you’d rather believe the same as I did. As long as it doesn’t get out of hand…But, unfortunately when you are arguing solely for yourself, you’re doing it wrong.
Here’s an example that resembles this battle of wits.
Sara doesn’t like it when her boyfriend is sarcastic with her so she tells him one day, “I’m tired of it, you think you’re so funny, but you’re not!”
Michael looks confused, “You are sarcastic with me all the time, how are you going to tell me not to be sarcastic with you? That’s not fair.”
Sara crosses her arms and rolls her eyes, “I am not!” she says, “You’re sarcasm is always mean! I-“
Michael interrupts, “No, you think I am being mean, but I’m not. You’re always too defensive anyway, you need to chill.”
This back and forth will continue, drawing out more accusations until hurtful things have been said. It takes a while before anything remotely positive can even come of the conversation and there are apologies that have to be made in the end. Sure this little bickering may seem trivial, but the point is they aren’t on the same team.
Is this the way your disagreements with your partner tend to go?
When Jake and I first started out, all of our arguments were like this. And it seemed pretty normal to us. You have an issue to address and the whole point is making the other person see why you have the opinion you do and agree to change, isn’t it? Yes!
But when you fight from your side against your partner there’s finger pointing and a series of attacks, one side against the other. Hurtful character attacks usually occur too and if you do win the argument, you are likely sacrificing a little love or respect at the same time.
On the other hand, when you remain on the same team, you fight for your partner. You fight the problem with your partner. And just how do you do that?
There’s 2 steps you can each take to remain on the same side:
1. Acknowledge your partners position FIRST. After they’ve given their initial stance, repeat your understanding of how they feel BEFORE you go about explaining yourself. You may find that as you explain where your partner is coming from it actually makes sense to you and you are less likely to take an offensive position.
2. And then ask your partner what they see as a solution to the problem. Again, when you consider your partner first you’ll be more likely to respond with productive words.
From there you can explain your thoughts on the issue and what you believe is the right solution. And then, as a team, decide together what solution works for you both.
Remaining on the same side, the same team, let’s you bypass the hurtful words, finger pointing and approach the disagreement from a place of love from the beginning!
I know what you’re thinking, How do you remain on the same team when you’re mad at each other or hurt? That’s so much easier said than done!
Get a head start by making a pact with each other, when you are both in a happy place, to be on the same team when you encounter arguments. Don’t wait until you’re mad to talk about ‘correct arguing’, that won’t go well! It is important to discuss what you’ll do, before the next argument.
Then, when an issue is brought up, stop yourself from your initial reaction (it will be hard at first, old habits and all…) and think about the other person first.
In summary, your first response should be to explain your understanding of how the other person feels about the situation, not about how you feel. This will help the conversation get off to a better start than justifying yourself up front or taking the defensive stance.
Usually, the first person to bring something up is the one who has a problem, right? In the above example, Sara has an issue she wants to address with Michael. She tells him she’s tired of his sarcasm and that she doesn’t think it’s funny. Clearly, Sara is telling him that instead of being funny his sarcasm hurts her feelings.
While this introduction to the conversation isn’t the most productive, Michael could show her that he’s on her team if his response was something like this,
“Sara, you usually laugh when I’m sarcastic with you, but if you say it’s not funny and you want me to stop it then obviously it hurts your feelings.”
Now Sara could explain why the sarcasm hurts her, because Michael acknowledged her feelings and when you’re the one that’s hurt, having that initial acknowledgement means a lot and makes you feel safe to express yourself in a non-defensive way. Then, Michael won’t feel attacked or defensive either.
Typically this might be a time where Michael could explain his side, which would be okay, but instead he could follow through with step 2 and ask her what exactly she’d like to happen. Because he really cares for her, the solution may be as simple as making an effort to pull back on the sarcasm. That’s not an unreasonable solution!
It’s not always that easy though, is it? Some disagreements are bigger than that, but the same concept applies always, with every argument. You both should aim to begin the conversation with the understanding that you’re on the same side. And your fighting a problem, not each other.
Jake and I have been doing this for a very long time, and I can tell you it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we do fail at it, but most times we remember to be on each other’s side. We try to start a conversation with some sort of reminder that we are on the same side and then at least follow step 1 from the start. It might take a little longer to get to step 2, but we know we want to find a solution that makes us both happy. And yes, it feels a little cheesy at first. It also takes humility and a lot of love for your partner and relationship, but it’s really so worth it!
I recall many times I’ve had to stop myself in mid argument to say, “Okay, we aren’t being on the same team right now. We need to stop this.” And then one of us will swallow our own pride and say something like “I understand that this is what you are saying…and this is where I am coming from (explain calmly) What do you want, how can I help?”
As I said, being on the same side does a lot to keep arguments productive and prevent hurt feelings and finger pointing.
Because think about it, does finger pointing say I hear you? Does yelling, sarcasm or finger pointing say I love you? No they don’t. And in fact they only draw out the argument longer, creating more hurt and more reasons to apologize in the end.
How To Be On the Same Side
If you’ve been in a relationship for any amount of time already, implementing this ‘same side’ rule isn’t really that hard. In fact, it is one of the easier rules to start! You’ll first need to decide that doing it will help your arguments become productive and healthy.
First, you need to see the benefit of being on the same team during disagreements in order for you both to take it to heart. If you’re worried about whether or not your partner will agree to try it, consider where you are in the relationship. Is there love and commitment? When two people love and care about each other, they’re willing to try anything (within reason) to create a healthier relationship.
Now, since you’re the one reading this, it’s up to you to initiate the change. You can begin the conversation by saying something like, “I love you and I’d do anything to make you happy. I really want a healthy relationship. I have been reading some ideas from couples who say these things have worked for them. I think if we try to do some of these things it might help us too.” I’m pretty sure that’s how I brought the suggestions to Jake.
You could suggest that your partner reads this post or you can give them the jist of it. My husband isn’t a big reader, but when I told him this concept of being on each other’s side during a disagreement, instead of only on your own and explained the two steps to do it, he could see that it was a good idea. I think his exact words were, “Yeah, I mean, it couldn’t hurt to try.”
We talked about first acknowledging each other’s point of view before we begin on how we feel. We found that even though that takes a good deal of restraint in the beginning, it softens the situation immediately. It’s amazing! Because when you feel understood from the start, you don’t want to hurt your partners feelings with unkind words and you are more inclined to say “okay, but I also see what you’re saying too”. The rest of the conversation is more likely to be productive and healthy.
Even though he agreed to it, Jake told me he had concerns with how it would work in the heat of an argument, but we both promised to try to stick to it even when things were heated. There was nothing to lose! And it DID WORK! It reduced the time we spent arguing and that alone was worth it for me! I hate arguing!
When we were having a heated argument, regrouping and re-establishing the team concept often calmed things down. We even got to a point where we could stop an argument and hug and agree to try to start over–on the same side this time. (*That hugging in the heat of it took a while!)
Are you excited to try the ‘same team’ concept in your relationship? Just wait and see what a difference it makes!
If this post resonated with you, you definitely want to keep reading this series! Check out Part 2 next, and learn how to GET WHAT YOU WANT without asking your partner for a thing!
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