Another easy marriage tip

My last post of an easy marriage tip was very popular, so here's another. Sometimes problem solving isn't super-deep. Sometimes it's more practical and everyday. So here it is.

1. You're having a disagreement with your spouse about something, and things are going nowhere, perhaps about to get heated. Terrible escalations often start with the dumbest things, so let's say it's a disagreement over what movie to watch tonight.

2. One of you realizes it's going south, and says, "Let's do one to ten," before things move toward saying hurtful things.

3. Both of you mentally (to yourself) come up with how much the thing you're disagreeing about matters to you on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most. So perhaps you really would rather see an action movie, but it's not the end of the world if you don't, so perhaps you're at a 4 or 5, in terms of how much it matters to you.

4. Both of you reveal (say) your "one to ten." This immediately allows you to communicate about the real topic at hand, and to have a useful argument that doesn't turn hurtful. In this way, by staying on-topic, you can empathize with the degree to which this decision is important to your spouse. If your score the lower one, you may realize that seeing your spouse happy is much more important to you than what movie is chosen, for instance. Or, if your score the higher one, you have been able to make your feelings known in a calm, useful manner, and can feel validated when your spouse understands. The "complex" feeling of hurtful arguments isn't complex, it's just that things have gotten way off topic, which is confusing.

5. Now, since you have likely avoided going to a hurtful, confusing place, simply make the decision with whoever's score is higher. Or, if the scores are the same, and neither of you cares more, perhaps you feels like doing something nice and going with what your spouse wants, just to feel good. Or you can flip a coin after agreeing to be happy with the result--which can make the situation funny, as well.

That's it. In any case, the take-home point is that arguments are GOOD things in a marriage! They just have to stay on topic. Arguments are how good communication results in problem-solving that takes everyone's feelings into account, along with the facts. Arguments are experiences of intimacy in which being open about emotions is a safe place. The problem is when arguments turn into selfishness, or when they trigger a hurt place--perhaps from years ago. In most cases, couples go to the same hurtful places, again and again. That's unhealthy just like an infected cut.

This "one to ten" method, as well as being practical, is a "thought stopper" that gives everyone a minute to draw back and consider what's important. It's not only an easy way to decide things, it's good practice for changing the pattern of arguments going to hurtful places. In marriage therapy we aren't just looking for ways to resolve hurts old and new, we are working on practical ways to "lower the temperature" in the relationship and focus on what's important, so that productive discussion is even possible in therapy. This is one of the simpler methods that everyone can use.

Give it a try!