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Dear Dr. Debra,


Last month, you wrote about having a win/win relationship. I’ve discussed this concept with my husband, and we both like it. But we haven’t been able to make it work for us yet. Can you give us some more tips?


Curious, too



Dear Curious, too,


Of course I can give you more tips. Start by having a discussion and agreeing on the “rules” of an argument. Make sure the two of you set down these “rules” when you aren’t in the middle of a fight. They need to be in place before the fight.


Commit to a win/win situation. For this to happen, you have to achieve three main goals:

Each person has an opportunity to share and be heard.

Each person’s feelings are validated and understood.

The two of you find a solution that works for both of you.


Also for the discussion to work, you need to have rules on which you agree. I suggest the following rules:

Both people treat each other with respect.

No raising of voices, name calling, criticism, or profanity is allowed.

Each person talks without being interrupted.

If tempers start to heat, one or the other person calls a time out until both can return to finish the conversation in a calm manner.


So how will this work? Begin by taking turns. Whoever brings up the topic needs to be allowed to finish it. The other person listens, holding eye contact, nodding his head, and making listening noises like “hmmm.” The listener tries his best to understand the feelings of the speaker. This means maintaining a non-defensive attitude.


The next step is for the listener to validate the speaker’s feelings. This means he says something like, “I understand you’re feeling _______ about _______.” 


It’s still not the listener’s turn to share. He doesn’t jump in and explain what he’s done, or blame her in any way. Nor does he try to fix the situation. Instead he says, “What else are you feeling?” Or, “What else is on your mind?”


At this point the speaker might elaborate on her feelings. The listener continues to listen. He again validates her feelings. If she’s finished talking, then it’s his turn to share his feelings and point of view.


Now it’s the first person’s turn to listen in a non-defensive way, then validating, and encouraging the sharing of more information. It’s important to know that you can never validate too much.


At any point, if the listener interrupts, explains, or becomes defensive, critical, or blaming, the speaker calmly reminds the other of the rule. For example:  “Remember you’re supposed to listen without interrupting. You’ll have your turn to talk later when I’m finished.”


Once both people have finished sharing their feelings, it’s time for any necessary explanations or apologies. At the end of the conversation, the two of you can work on solutions.


This structure will take some discipline and practice. However, soon you’ll find that your relationship is less adversarial and far more loving.


Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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