In any relationship, arguments are bound to happen. Try these “rules of engagement” to communicate effectively when things get heated.

With weddings that astound and engagements abound, we wander into the territory of honeymooning in a new relationship or marriage. When the dust settles and life becomes mundane, conflict will arise and winds will blow.

Conflict and opposite points of view exist in all unions. There is a way to express frustration and anger with “rules of engagement.” It begins with the facts: there are two truths: yours and mine. You are right because it is your truth, and I am right because I believe in my truth.

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) teaches us to respect and understand that it is okay to not see eye to eye, and that each person is right according to their view. The problem starts when emotions are high, conflict takes over, and two people are trying to convince each other of their own personal truth (perspective).

We try to convince each other we are right and they are wrong. Emotions get in the way, tones change and grow, voices escalate, and now there is something else happening — we are not listening to each other.

To make a point, the button-pushing begins. Now we are hurting one another. Why? Because we know how to push each other’s buttons. Now words are said that can never be taken back, boundaries have been broken and bad feelings are reinforced.

How do we maneuver through our relationships with our souls intact? We use the “rules of engagement” to create what I like to call, “Shalom Bayit,” or peaceful relations at home.

First and foremost, we must realize that no matter how angry or upset we become, the person we are with is someone we care about. Hurting someone we care about serves no purpose. Being heard does serve our purpose. To this end we put in the boundaries of fair fighting.

Couple experiencing conflict
via iStock

An adapted Dialectical Behavioral Therapy approach can be helpful during an argument, known as “V – DEAR MAN”:

V = Validate the importance of the person in front of you. Let them know they are important to you. Now you have their attention and the fair fight rules can be respected.

D = Describe the situation focusing only on the facts — no criticisms or opinions —just the facts.

E = Explain with “I” statements how you are feeling regarding the situation. Feelings are not a matter of right or wrong. Validate that the person in front of you is feeling whatever they are feeling and that’s okay, too. When the word “you” is used, a person feels attacked — avoid using “you.”

A = Ask the person to meet you in the middle. Specify what it is you need them to do, but ask with kindness:

  1. Acknowledge your point of view as different to their own but valid.

2. Come to a compromise that will benefit both parties.

3. Ask them to come up with a different solution other than what has been put on the table. You invite them to help solve the problem.

4. Acknowledge that both parties see things differently and that’s okay.

5. Ask them to try to explain their perspective in another way you may better understand.

6. Paraphrase what you hear them saying to make sure you interpreted things correctly.

R = Reinforce the benefit of resolving the conflict.

M = Maintain the conversation on the subject at hand. Only talk about the particular issue. Never say things out of context, push buttons, yell and tantrum. This will never be erased.

A = Appear interested and involved.

N = Negotiate. Be able to meet in the middle and focus on what will work for both parties.  If all else fails, it’s time to take a break and come back to the issue once emotions are under control. Some couples find it helpful to create a code word to indicate a break, using playful terms such as smile, pumpkin, fiddle-faddle, orange peel or moo. The word can set the tone and must be so absurd it de-escalates in and of itself.

These “rules of engagement” ensure that all issues of emotional charge can be maneuvered successfully and are concluded to everyone’s satisfaction. This is a recipe for fair fighting and creates a safe space to share raw feelings without hurting each other.

This tool is beneficial to maintaining a healthy strong relationship, and in crossing the conflict we become stronger together and grow.

Lori Gordon-Michaeli, LCSW, of Farmington Hills, owns Journey Within LLC Behavioral Health Services in Southfield, MI. (www.jwithin.com). She earned her master’s in social work at the University of Michigan. In her practice, she uses various methods including EMDR, CBT, DBT, TRT, art and journaling. She made aliyah to Israel at age 18 and lived there until age 42. She studied at Haifa University and is is fluent in Hebrew. As a world traveler, she has a global view and a background in world religions and diversity.  

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