Keep Arguments On Topic

I recently tweeted the following:

In arguments, you have a right to deal with the issue you brought to the table. Same for your spouse. #MarriageTip

Perhaps I should have said “you SHOULD have the right” because I know plenty of marriages where this right does not exist.

Keep Arguments On Topic

We throw other stuff into an argument because we want to win. If what’s on the table isn’t something we can win, we muddy the water with other stuff. Some of that stuff is related, some of it isn’t. He’s upset about a light being left on, so you counter with the trash not being taken out. He complains about sex, so you remind him of his failure to call you last week when he got delayed and came home hours after you expected him. Bringing up other stuff does nothing positive for your marriage. At best it prevents dealing with the original issue. At worst it can turn a small matter into a major fight. 

If you’re guilty of this, stop. Make a choice to never add things to an argument or disagreement. Focus on what was brought to the table and work on that one thing till it’s been resolved. If your husband does this to you, address it after you haven’t done it for a while. Tell him you would be happy to deal with his concern at another time, but you need to deal with what you brought up first. Offer to schedule a time to deal with his concern. If he won’t back off, disengage and try again at another time.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and this reminds me of the time that….

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3 Comments on “Keep Arguments On Topic

  1. Paul, wanting to win is not the only reason we muddy the waters. John Gottman describes this as one of the most common methods of Defensiveness. It is still wrong, but could very easily mean that the spouse doing it feels like they’re being attacked or criticized, not that they want to win an argument. I think it’s very important to make this point, because it could be easy but detrimental for anyone to read this article and jump to conclusions: “My spouse does this, therefore my spouse is selfish and manipulative and is just trying to dominate me in arguments.”

    Your suggestions are superb, but I believe they are the second step.

    The first step, if your spouse is guilty of this, is to examine your approach. When a spouse does this, it’s a very strong indicator that the initiator of the discussion is using a harsh startup. Examine yourself, and soften your startup. Are you stating your own needs positively in terms of how you would like things to be, using “I” statements, with loving vocal tone and body language? Or are you criticizing how things are, pointing the finger with “you” statements, and using frustrated, aggressive, or hostile vocal tone and body language? After you take the plank out of your own eye by cleaning up your approach, then it’s time to keep your spouse on topic.

    If you find that you yourself tend to do this, the solution is to examine why. Maybe you realize you felt defensive. Maybe you don’t realize it, but if you increase your awareness you’ll see that your spouse’s approach evoked a physical response of tension or arousal. A mild fight-or-flight response. In addition to deciding not to respond with defensiveness, it’s time to ask your spouse if they can approach you with the problem in a more loving way, a way that will enhance communication.

    But, if you examine yourself and see that you’re not feeling defensive but just want to win the argument, then CUT IT OUT! ;)

    T, I’m XX, and after reading 4 of John Gottman’s books, we went through the 13-week counseling with a Level 3 licensed Gottman therapist and it was tremendous!

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