What do couples and presidential candidates have in common? Uncomfortable debates. But unlike the candidates in elections, experts say you can both come away as “winners” if you follow a few simple Couples’ Debate rules:

  • Take turns. Family therapist Caley Phillips says one reason many couples break down when they argue is because they constantly interrupt each other. So, no one feels like they’ve fully made their point, or that they were heard. She says political candidates use a moderator to make sure everyone gets their say. But if you and your partner tend to interrupt each other, set a kitchen timer for 2-minutes. Then take turns making your point.
  • Avoid these phrases: You’re so emotional. You’re being defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out. There is no surer way to escalate an argument that to minimize someone else’s feelings. If you truly think they’re over-reacting, then YOU should stay calm. If you dismiss their complaint – or rise to their level of emotion – you perpetuate it. If you’re calm, the other person will get calmer too. And if your partner says one of those things to you, take a breath and say, “This is important to me. Please listen.”
  • Be satisfied with being happy – not being right, or winning. Because if you’re right, that makes your partner wrong. If you win, that means they lose. But being wrong and losing aren’t healthy for a relationship. This is supposed to be the person you love most in the world. You shouldn’t want them to feel that way. Harriet Lerner wrote Marriage Rules: A Manual For The Married. She says your main goal is to make the relationship better. So, instead of firing zingers back and forth – try one of these lines to end the fight and find compromise:
    • “I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”
    • “I see how I may have contributed to the problem.”
    • “It helps me when I can talk to you about this."
    • “I can see my part in this.”

Do you agree that these rules can help? What rules do you follow to make sure you and your partner fight fair?

Lesson Expert

Mike Christian

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