Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Men, Keep the Ball in Play!

Guest blog post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Fighting that works!

Ever been in conflict and not known what to do?  Some men like a fight, some avoid it at all costs.  Too many of us drop the ball during a conflict….But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.

The Ball

When I taught a marriage class at a local Catholic high school, I held up a 10-inch playground ball and said, “This ball is going to teach you about the deep mysteries of life, relationships, marriage, and the Trinity.”  Yes, I went big!  I threw the ball back and forth with volunteers in each class.  I asked them what they learned about the Trinity from this.  They understood immediately that it reflected mutual self-giving, or extending and receiving, between the Father and the Son, which becomes the Holy Spirit.  I explained that the body speaks this same language in sex—males extend and females receive, bringing forth new life—babies and/or bonding.

The Infinite and Primordial Liturgies

Extending and receiving is the basic movement of life and love.  This movement within the Trinity I called the “infinite liturgy,” defining liturgy as a ritual and routine that communicates love and creates communion.  God uses liturgy to remind us who we are in God, to form our identity—think the liturgies of creation, the seventh day, and the Mass.

On a psychological level, this movement is seen in all our communication, starting with hello.  “Hello” is an extending; and if the other replies, “Hello,” the cycle, the liturgy, is complete, bringing new life to the relationship.  Deeper exchanges increase both our risk and rewards, while no response causes a little death.  Since our human extending and receiving was from the beginning, in the Garden, it could be called the “primordial liturgy.”

In the domestic church, the family, the primordial liturgy is our expression of love and the bedrock of our identity.  Without love, St. John Paul II says our lives become senseless and incomprehensible.  Without love, we live in fear.  Even more, these liturgies are the very structure and movement of love which casts out fear.  In fact, I think this extending and receiving should be the foundation of all spirituality, especially a lay spirituality—the micro-level of Therese’s little way.  Families should not imitate a monastic spirituality, carving out hours of time for prayer and feeling like failures when life interferes.  Instead, what if every interpersonal exchange, where extending and receiving is completed, is considered a prayer and a gift, directly reflecting the Trinity’s love?  That’s a liturgy we could practice all day long!

Fear, the Ball, and Bad Liturgy

In the class, I talked more about fear, explaining that while love moves us towards others, St. Augustine says sin (or fear) curves us back in on ourselves.  I then demonstrated our fear reactions of fight, flight, and freeze, or as we call them in our counseling practice, tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert mode.  When my volunteers threw me the ball, I smacked it to the ground—tantruming on the receiving side.  And I faked a hard throw that made the first rows jump—another tantrum, but on the extending side.

Next, my volunteers threw me the ball, and I caught it and walked away.  This was pouting/withdrawing, or flight.  Expert mode happens when one person has a wonderful solution for the other person (extending), but the other is not interested (not receiving).  To represent this, when they threw me the ball three times, I let it hit my chest and fall to the ground.  Teasing, I told the kids I was sure they never did this to their parents.

Satan’s Anti-Liturgy

The tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert modes are fear responses and always disrupt the primordial liturgy.  They are Satan’s plan for relationships and illustrate the literal meaning of his names: Satan—to accuse, and Devil/Diablo—to separate.

Conflict: Rally Ball vs. Ping-Pong

In conflict, we tend to forget love, the extending and receiving, and respond in fear—we “drop the ball” in some way.  The primordial liturgy is disrupted.  We start playing ping-pong, where we try to outsmart the other person to win.  But rally ball is the model needed during a conflict, where the object is to keep the ball going back and forth as long as possible.  If the ball is dropped, you simply start over.  The ideal in conflict is to receive the other’s hostility with empathy while not allowing yourself to be destroyed.  But sometimes this can be difficult, and you may need to end the argument with, “I am too upset to continue this conversation,” so you don’t move into ping-pong.  More on this in upcoming articles.

The Trinity, with its extending and receiving, the infinite liturgy, is the new foundation for a lay spirituality. Reflecting the Trinity in the primordial liturgy of the domestic church can make every interaction between persons a connection with God.  Men, radiate the Father’s love by living the extending and receiving in your families—and keep the ball in play, even in conflict!

 

For more about Dave McClow and Pastoral Solutions Institute, visit us at https://www.catholiccounselors.com

Are Cola Wars Killing YOUR Marriage?

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We all have our preferred brands: Our favorite kind of soda, our favorite brand of ice cream, or even our favorite type of laundry detergent. But did you know that our personal brand preferences can have a serious effect on our relationships and even cause divorce? It’s not as silly as it sounds.

A new study conducted at Duke University reveals that “preferring different brands can affect our happiness in relationships more than shared interests or personality traits.” Researchers discovered that the more powerful or influential partner in the relationship usually determines what brands the couple uses, however this can have a negative effect on the happiness of the lower power, or less influential, partner. Power, in this case, is indicated by an individual’s ability to shape or influence their partners’ behavior. Because of this, the less powerful partner usually loses out on buying his or her preferred brand, which could cause increased levels of unhappiness long term.

In other words, when one partner is consistently choosing their preferred brands without considering your preferences it can lead you to feel uncared for and undervalued.  Plus, since these are such little things, no one wants to make a big fuss about it, so the petty resentments can pile up into one big mountain of, “You ALWAYS get EVERYTHING you want! When do I get MY turn?”

Take heart, however, because knowledge is power. With this information about brand influence, we have options for how to negotiate this potential problem. First, we can talk to our partner and learn to compromise. For example, one week we will buy Diet Coke and the next week we will buy Diet Pepsi. Second, we can adopt new preferred brands. For example, instead of buying either of the originally preferred brands of cereal, we can go to the store with our partner and find a cereal we both enjoy. The point is, the devil really is in the details.  Even though any one of these micro-conflicts is no big deal, a little thoughtfulness, over the long haul, goes a long way. Taking small steps like these can have a big impact on the overall health, well-being, and happiness of our relationships.

For more tips on how to have a happy and healthy relationship, check out When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love or contact us at Pastoral Solutions Institute on the phone (740.266.6461) or online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Dreading Disagreements

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A lot of us dislike conflict, and because of this, we dread even the concept of facing disagreements. Often, however, disagreements are unavoidable, and sometimes even necessary. There’s good news, though! If we take a caring and loving approach to disagreements, we will have healthier, more productive conversations and less to fear about conflict!

Theology of the Body reminds us of the importance of mutual self-donation, the idea that a healthy relationship is characterized by the commitment to work for each OTHER’s good.  That applies to arguments as well.  The opposite of angry isn’t “calm.” It’s “care.”  The commitment to being mutually self-donative challenges us to actually care about the needs and POV of the person we’re arguing with.  Doing this doesn’t mean we have to surrender our own perspective or give up getting our own needs met.   It just means that we should be equally concerned about meeting their needs as we are getting our own needs met. Doing this in arguments allows two people to encourage each other through the tension and find solutions that are actually satisfying.

Here are a few tips on cultivating care in conflict:

1. Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement.  That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?”  and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive wa

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior.  Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully.  For instance, you might say something like, “When you do THIS or say THAT, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?”  Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future.  Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat.  It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3. Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them.  Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!”  But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what THEY are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room.  It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings.  Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more information on how to effectively handle conflict, check out When Divorce Is Not An Option and tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday, 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.

Why “Don’t argue in front of the kids” Isn’t Enough.

I’ve had a few conversations with couples this week who were–justifiably–upset that they were fighting in front of their children.  When I asked what they proposed to do about it, their suggestion was to take the fight behind closed doors.    This certainly seems reasonable, but what moms and dads don’t realize is that kids can hear through doors.

I remember being about 7 or 8 years old and my parents were going through a rough patch. I have no idea what the problem was, but I heard them arguing in their bedroom a lot.   Night after night, after I was supposed to be in bed,  I heard their loud, angry voices coming through the door.  One night, it dawned on me that if this kept up, they might get a divorce. I don’t think I ever heard them threaten it, but I just knew it could happen.  The idea really upset me and I decided I had to do something.  I got my army helmet and my toy rifle and my spring-loaded, toy canon (that shot real plastic shells!) and I stood guard outside my parents door.  Marching back and forth, I promised myself that I was NOT going to let them out until they settled whatever it was.  No one was getting divorced on MY watch.

Did you ever wonder if your kids were listening outside the door?

The resolution to “not fight in front of the children” is admirable, but parents are deluding themselves if they think the answer is moving the same loud, nasty argument to a different room or a different time.  Kids may look oblivious, but they are intimately aware of how well their parents are getting along–even behind closed doors.  They know their whole life depends on mom and dad acting like grown-ups which–now that I’m a grown-up–I know is not always the easiest thing to do.

Perhaps a better resolution than “don’t fight in front of the children”  is, “Always argue as if your kids are listening”  because whether or not we want them to,  they probably are.   Learning to resolve differences in a way that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to have our kids hear can take some work.   It may even mean getting some professional help, but it’s the only way to make sure your kids feel secure even when you’re going through a challenging time together.  Every couple will struggle from time to time, its natural and its even necessary.  But when you must argue, be sure to argue as if your kids were listening.  Your marriage will be better for it, and so will your kids.

———-Isn’t it time for you and your spouse to discover more loving ways to resolve conflict? Contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute at 740-266-6461 to find out how you can work with a faithful, professional, Catholic therapist via our tele-counseling practice.

 

How Do We Respond to Moral Failures?

Over on the Patheos Atheist Channel, Dan Fincke of Forward Thinking asks an interesting question….

How and when (if ever) should we take it upon ourselves to punish someone in our lives for a moral failure? How does this vary depending on various possible relationships we might have to the the morally guilty party? Consider, for example, how or whether we might punish our friends, our partners, our parents, our colleagues, strangers we encounter, etc. What sorts of values and principles should guide us when we presume to take it upon ourselves to be moral enforcers?

For the traditional Christian (as opposed to the po-mo Christian, for example) the answer is love.  We have absolutely no right to “punish” people for moral failings (c.f., Matt 5:7; 7:1).  “Punish” comes from the Latin root, “punire”  meaning, “to inflict pain.”  It is simply not our place to inflict more pain on a guilty person than they are already experiencing in their guilt.

That said, we do have a right, and even an obligation rooted in love (defined as the commitment to work for the good of others) and justice (defined as the virtue that ensure that each person receives what is rightfully theirs), to hold people accountable to themselves (if their moral failing hurts them) and/or to us (if their moral failing has damaged us or our relationship.

But holding someone accountable–in the classical Christian context–simply means seeing that the person is committed to healing the damage caused by their actions and, ideally, giving them the skills to not make the same mistake again. This is the heart of the principle of “restorative justice” which has deep roots in Catholic Social teaching and forms the basis of the Christian response to both personal and social failings.  But what does all this look like in practice in your life and relationships?

The old Ignatian practice of “charitable interpretation” can be helpful here.  Rooted in the idea of loving the sinner bur hating the sin, Charitable interpretation doesn’t mean making excuses for bad behavior.  Traditionally, it means attempting to interpret another person’s behavior in the most reasonably generous way possible, while still being willing to address any issues/problems that stem from the behavior.

One way to apply the principle of Charitable Interpretation is to assume that every behavior, even the obnoxious, irritating, frustrating, sinful, and destructive behaviors, represent someone’s flawed attempt to meet an otherwise positive intention or need.  If I can work with someone to figure out what they were trying to do, and give them more efficient, more respectful ways to meet that intention or need, the bad behavior should go away. It isn’t always quite that easy, but even in more complicated situations, the process is fairly straightforward.   Generally speaking if you help someone find a more efficient, less offensive, way of meeting their needs, they are more than willing to take it.

For instance, if a dad  tends to yell at his kids, often it’s because he doesn’t have a better way to get them to behave.  If someone can help that dad find a more effective way to parent that doesn’t involve yelling, he can stop yelling.  Or, if a friend indulges in some offensive habit, it’s usually to meet some need (cope with stress, bid for help or attention, etc.)  If I can help my friend identify the need and help him find a more efficient, less offensive way to meet the need, the obnoxious habit should stop.

Again, it’s rare that things are ever this straightforward and I talk about how to apply these principles at some length in my book, God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People.  But the bottom line is that the Christian can do a lot more good by helping an offender find more efficient and godly ways to meet the needs that underlie moral failings than we can by inflicting pain on the offender.   It’s all part of the way we cooperate with God’s grace as we seek to create a healthy peace between us and others.  A peace that is grounded in justice and love.