One great treat of an English summer is the open air opera season. Last week, I was blessed enough to enjoy Glyndebourne (the flagship for English – not quite - open air opera). We met up with friends for a perfect tea, in the perfect tea-room.
Before long, we got round to talking about our relationships.
“The reason behind our relationship success,” my friend said, “is that we can argue, quite fiercely. But there's no rancour.”
A bad relationship is one in which rancour thrives.
Back in the day, I was in a bad relationship. There was a lot of racour. I remember one evening we spent with another couple who were obviously blissfully well-suited. Even as I was asking myself what made their relationship so much better than our relationship, the other husband answered that question for me:
“The reason our relationship works so well is that we're very good at resolving arguments successfully,” he said.
Light-bulb moment for that younger me.
Some of us have been brought up in the Annihilation School. You argue to win, and arguments are wielded, like clubs, to ANNIHILATE the other person's position.
Some of us have been grought up in the Bogey Man School. You're taught to avoid arguments like the plague – because someone's bound to get hurt, and that person will probably be you.
Some of us treat a 'good' argument like a stag night: it's an occasion when anything goes and, with a bit of luck, there won't be any lasting ill-effects. Although you can never be sure.
You can use an argument to gather ammunition – for the next argument – as well as to use up some of your existing supply of ammunition.
One thing we don't use arguments for, too much is learning how to communicate better.
(Learning which topics we need to tiptoe round is NOT learning how to comunicate better. That's just learning to walk on egg-shells better.)
Learning how to recognise – and be respectful of – a partner's vulnerabilities, while still expressing your point of view clearly and constructively, is a very real way to communicate better.
We like to be agreed with.
But we need to be heard.
When we're heard, we feel validated.
When we feel validated, whether or not we win the argument becomes much less important. Because in a way we win, anyway.
Validation creates the win-win scenario for both parties.
What do you really need to feel validated?