Customer Service in a Marital Dispute

I’ve seen it happen several times. I’ve heard friends talk about it even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. You probably have too.  You order you’re food at a restaurant and when it finally comes to the table it is cold or maybe even the wrong order. So, you call on the wait staff to correct the problem.  Now one of two things can happen.

Option One: The wait staff becomes defensive. They try to make you understand what happened and explain it was not their fault. They sound like they’re arguing with you. They may even blame you for the mishap. You just get more and more frustrated. Even if they fix your food you leave the restaurant angry, determined to never do business with them again. That’s one option.

Option Two: The wait staff listens. They calmly hear your concern. They may even ask a few questions to clarify. They seem to show genuine concern, apologize, and do their best to remedy the problem. This time you leave feeling good even if the food wasn’t the best you’ve had. At least they listened. They understood my concern. They empathized with my frustration. They are good people and I enjoy doing business with them.

These same two options exist in our marriages. When disagreements and conflicts arise we can follow option one or option two. The option we choose will impact our relationship satisfaction. In fact, a group of researchers explored this very idea in a series of seven studies published in 2016 (See 3 Steps to Calm Your Romantic Partner When You Are Arguing for more). The results of all seven studies demonstrated that couples had greater relationship satisfaction when both partners felt understood. Even more, participants reported greater relationship satisfaction in spite of disagreement when they felt understood by their partner. They felt more like a team. They believed their partner was invested in the relationship and that the problem could be resolved more easily. They even felt closer after the disagreement than before the disagreement! Sounds like a great result.  So, how can you assure your spouse feels understood?

  1. Listen. Listen to their words to understand what they say. Look at them so they know you are listening. Listen to their body language to see if there might be more to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions to discover the deeper meaning behind what they’re saying. Listen wholeheartedly. Listen intently. Listen.
  2. Ask questions to better understand and clarify what they are saying. No matter how intently you listen you might misunderstand something. So, ask some questions. Repeat what you believe they are saying and ask if that is correct. If not, listen some more.
  3. Look for areas in which you can change and compromise based on your partner’s concerns. In other words, let their words influence you. Let your partner’s needs and wishes influence your actions. Compromise.
  4. And, did I say…LISTEN.

Responding to disagreements in this manner will determine whether you and your partner walk away from the disagreement satisfied or frustrated, feeling good or feeling bad, happy or upset, determined to enjoy more time together or questioning your relationship. I know which one I want, do you?

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