Opt for love and seek to reach accord: Winning an argument is an illusion | Sunday Observer

Opt for love and seek to reach accord: Winning an argument is an illusion

Every married couple knows, marriage provides fertile ground for conflict. Simply by sharing space and time, husbands and wives limit one another’s freedom in a score of ways, every day. How well the marriage works depends to a great degree on how well the couple learns to handle the conflicts arising from these limitations.

Some couples fall into the trap of dealing with disagreements on a win-or-lose basis. They do not realize that the idea of ‘winning’ a conflict is an illusion - that one person’s ‘victory’ inevitably turns into a loss for both.

So, how can a person discover whether he or she seeks to win rather than to resolve conflicts?

Here are some clues: Do you use extreme tactics to gain your point? Recently, I talked to a lady in her late 20s who insisted that she and her husband always talked out a disagreement until they reached a mutually satisfactory decision. “But what happens when one of you has to yield?” I asked. “Well, it looks like always I’m the one,” the wife said smilingly, “but I wouldn’t mind.”

Are you willing to hurt your spouse’s self-esteem to win? Indika and Varuni, newly married, were planning their first anniversary dinner. For dessert, she wanted to make chocolate-cream cake. He warned her against it. “That cake needs a lot of time to come out right, and you’re going to be rushed. I suggest you keep it simple.”

But Varuni insisted. On the afternoon of the dinner, Indika heard her sobbing in the kitchen. She had unmoulded the cake too soon, and it had broken into fragments.

Instead of giving her sympathy he took the opportunity to prove that he had been right all along: “Didn’t I tell you it was dumb to make that cake?”

There are other techniques also for manoeuvring to win. One is demanding a payoff for past favours: “I’ve typed all your reports. The least you can do is this.”

Fighting to win

Why do some couples feel they must fight to win?

Is ‘winning’ necessary to maintain your self-esteem? Is having a good opinion of one’s self an essential ingredient for successful family life? Is it the reason why some people who are essentially insecure often struggle to create a false image - both to impress outsiders and, subconsciously, to deceive themselves?

I remember Dalton - a quiet, self- effacing government employee married to a lively lady who generally managed to have things her way. Dalton compensated for his feelings of inferiority by insisting that he was sensitive to moods - especially, his wife’s. “She walks outside the door and I know what she’s thinking,” he said.

Often, he would suddenly ask, “What’s the matter?” This never failed to irritate her. She’d say, “Nothing.” He’d shoot back, “Of course there is. I can tell you’re angry.” By this time, she was furious, and her husband would point out how right he was: “Just listen to your voice. Of course, you’re angry.” He had both won and lost.

Do certain issues - unimportant in themselves - have great symbolic significance for you? A family counsellor told me of a couple who fought for two weeks over a simple matter. She had wanted to send a package to their son studying in Australia by air courier; he insisted that it should go by simple air parcel mail.

When conflicts erupt over such seeming trifles, make an effort to learn what the argument is really about. For instance, the husband who created a scene over extra postage might have been telling his wife that he was angry and hurt that she seemed to pay more attention to the son than she did to him.

Obviously, some conflict is inevitable in any marriage.

So how can husbands and wives approach their disagreements constructively, seeking to resolve rather than win them?

Here are some helpful steps:

1. Keep in mind that marriage is a cooperative enterprise, not a competitive one. The goal is not to settle which of you is right or wrong but to reach a solution both of you can live with. It means, a compromise that will make life together more pleasant. A compromise is better than the most brilliant solution that one partner is likely to sabotage.

2. Try humour as a way of mood changing. A husband reports that his wife has a habit of writing little notes and reminders to him that she characteristically signs, “Love, Sanoja.” “One night,” the man said, “we had a big argument. We went to bed still angry. The next morning, I found a note beside my coffee cup but it was signed - Sanoja, your distant relative. The joke didn’t solve anything, but it did open the way for us to start talking again.”

3. Avoid letting mild disagreements become full-scale conflicts. If you are arguing about where to go on a Saturday evening, keep the discussion on that specific point. Do not suddenly rake up serious differences about money, say, by accusing your spouse of being unwilling - “as usual” - to spend a few extra hundreds on the evening’s amusement.

4. Be careful about setting up or falling into power traps. Certain phrases - “Give me an example” or “Prove it if you can! “ - are rarely used by a person who knows he or she is losing an argument.

Those are statements made by a person who is moving in for the kill. It often moves the argument away from its real point, to what may be an irrelevant or petty side issue.

Remember: the basic reason why winning does not work is that it reduces marriage to a power struggle. And when power becomes the prevailing force, love is pruned down. When couples deal with whatever conflict, they must make a choice: They can opt for power and seek to win. Or they can opt for love and seek to reach accord.