When couples argue with each other and the conflict escalates, 90% of the time it is not because of the content of the disagreement.   Arguments more often become worse because one partner feels that the other doesn’t care about or respect his point of view.  The best way to show respect is to give your partner all the time needed to speak, without interrupting, so that she can fully express herself.   The speaker should remember to speak in short periods of 30 seconds as often as possible.  Of course, the speaker may need more time to express herself.  But, the best

advice is to keep it short.   It’s also best to end the speaker sharing with “….which makes me think_____”  or with “….which makes me feel_____.”  This helps the listener when it comes time to reflect upon what he heard.

            “If you wash your hands before doing surgery, it will save patient’s lives. ”

-Dr. Joseph Lister speaking to 19th century surgeons.

One simple rule for early surgeons  about washing hands that has such tremendous results with patients surviving.

 “If you stop interrupting, listen to each other in turn, and take Time Outs when needed

you’ll eliminate 95% of your arguing and possibly prevent a divorce.”

-Common Sense

The rules on these cards is the simplest answer to high conflict couples.

Most arguing is really about ‘who has the floor’ and who’s point shall we address.  Taking turns who gets to be the speaker is so helpful.  I can keep my thoughts to myself while ‘reflecting’ what my partner has said, because I now trust that I will be listened to in the same respectful way.   No more interruptions and no more open ‘blame-fest’ by using the structure these cards can bring to some tough subjects.

          Both quotes are very simple instructions.   It’s not hard to understand the concept of washing your hands.  But the surgeons of the 1800’s had no real idea of what bacteria were.  They couldn’t identify that bacteria were the causes and that their effects were more patient deaths after surgery.  Since the other surgeons didn’t understand they didn’t change. So it took 20 to 30 years for the procedure of washing hands before surgery to become widespread and commonplace.  Such a simple change had tremendous benefits.   And yet, they resisted it.   Don’t let the simplicity of these methods throw you off.  Use each of the methods in this workbook 10 times before passing judgment.

Most people know what interrupting another person looks like.  They would also likely know when they are doing it to others.   It may be hard for you the reader to understand why changing this one behavior can mean the difference between divorce and a happy marriage.  As a professional in domestic violence, and more importantly as a man who has been in relationships that have become argumentative, I can only tell you, as Dr. Lister might have said to his fellow surgeons, “Don’t trust my word.  Just do it and see for yourself!”

The simplicity of the solutions to some of the most complicated problems is amazing.   When you’re done reading Coming Together you will get better at fully listening to others before making your own points and stopping an argument when it gets too hot by taking a Time Out.

Take turns being quiet, say something about your responsibility in the problem, demonstrate that you care about the other’s experience, make time for each other and leave the room when it gets too hot.    Display the importance of your partner’s experience by reflecting what feelings you heard him or her express.  Never disagree with a feeling.  It’s O.K. to say how you were affected by the other’s thoughts and feelings.

These are very simple concepts, but they are not easy to execute.  Please think about this proposition.  Let’s say you cannot stop talking or acting angry or intimidating toward your partner when she has specifically cited an agreement you made in which you said you would stop if she said a certain phrase.  Would you be willing to admit that YOU are out of control?


These cards may be printed from this page.  They will also be provided as part of the full Self-Guided Real Hope Couples Communication Course that will be available late this summer of 2015.