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
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
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
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
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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