Marriage Minute # 11 “FOUL…!” (From Marriage Minutes… available from Amazon.com)
Here’s the plan. I am going to stop by the sports equipment store and buy a referee’s flag, like the one used in football games. I am going to try something new. When my next clients begin to argue with each other, I am going to throw the flag (I guess I need a whistle, too) and call any foul what it is.
Most people think they win an argument when their spouse gives up. They believe this even though spouses seldom give up during an argument. They may give up on the marriage, after they decide they don’t want to live like this anymore, but they don’t usually “give up” on the argument. If they become quiet, it may only be because they are intimidated. When this person gets quiet, the person who has been screaming thinks they have won. Pity…
During arguments that people engage in during counseling, I hear scores of examples of unfair fighting and poor communication. Bear in mind that I don’t invite the argument. I don’t think they help, even in counseling, and I don’t believe that “letting it all out” is any excuse for rage and the damage it does. But, people often choose to fight in unfair ways, and they often think they win, just because they have made their spouse quiet.
Here is my proposal. Let me call the fouls. Let me penalize the behaviors that hurt, like the name-calling, the exaggerating, the globalizing, the interrupting, the issue stacking, the manipulating, and all the others. Let me deduct points for poor behaviors. Let me give points for accurate reporting, for valid assertions, for reasonable claims, etc.
Like judging a debate on points, I could say which person really had the best presentation, and the win. I could give the trophy to the one who really made the best case, not to the one who had the volume, the threatening words, the intimidations, and so forth. Study the best debaters, the ones who consistently win their debates— they don’t use anger, slander, or impatience. The one with the best case could relax and just make their case. The one with the communication abuse would lose every time. That would be great.
The only problem is that it won’t work. It won’t work because people will only engage in fair and proper conflict, fair fighting, when they want to do so. They will avoid the ugly things, only when they love the beautiful things about good relationships. When you give up on the false ideas about arguments, and stop them, then you might win. You will win on points, when the points favor the relationship, when they are based on truth and honesty, and when they are unselfish.
If I buy a yellow flag, it will only be to make some points of my own. You can win a fight and lose a relationship. You can’t make someone appreciate you by volume, any more than you can make someone like music by making them sit next to the loud-speaker.
The answer is not having a therapist with a whistle and yellow flag. The answer is having your on internal referee. Go have a good “real life”, and not just a game.