Relationships: How You Fight with Partner Can Help You Stay Married or Get Divorced

Q: My husband and I are separated and really trying to use this time to rediscover what we each want out of life and see if we can find that together. We’ve been married a long time and seem to have gotten stuck in the same arguments over and over, even though I think we both want to move beyond these. As a former mediator, can you offer any suggestions?

A: First, I would think about finding a counselor to coach you in new ways of communicating. That having been said, there are a few tips I have found really priceless in terms of getting around the line-in-the-sand that so often results just because we didn’t know how to ask a question. When we’re talking to husbands, good friends and our kids we tend to fall back on the methods of communicating and managing conflict that we learned in our families during childhood.

The way we phrase a question can predetermine the answer or at least the emotion behind the answer. For example, the seemingly simple question: “Why do you like that?” implies a right or wrong answer and can put the listener on the defensive, resulting in a response that tells nothing except what he/she will or won’t do.

Asked another way, the question: “What about that is important to you?” suggests that we are really interested in getting more information about the other persons needs, desires and interests.

By bringing a little more awareness to the way we ask and answer questions many potential arguments can be avoided and others turned into thoughtful discussions where information is truly shared and new insights come forward. Discovering one’s personal conflict style and learning new ways to ask old questions are relationship building tools that help us learn about each other and move the conversation in new directions.