The next time you have an argument with your spouse I want you to say the very last thing that they will expect to hear from you, “You Are Absolutely Right.” [YAAR]
Then stop right there and resist the temptation to add any if-ands-or-buts!
In order to make this work you have to do 2 things:
1. You have to say “You are absolutely right” (you can change the words slightly but without changing the meaning e.g. You are so right, You really are right, I absolutely agree with you, etc) AND
2. You have to be completely honest and mean it when you say it.
So how can this be, how can they be absolutely right? After all, you wouldn’t be having an argument unless you disagreed with them. Well, that’s actually the point – once you agree you have evaporated the only reason to have an argument. So here is how you you can always say they are absolutely right and mean it.
Nobody is 100% right and nobody is 100% wrong. In reality, most of the time people are somewhere between 20%-80% wrong. So let’s say that in this particular situation your spouse is 80% wrong. That means that they are also 20% right. So whenever you argue about this topic you are choosing to focus on the 80% thats wrong or the 20% where they are right. If you focus on where they are wrong you are locked into a perpetual argument. If you choose instead to focus on the 20% where they are right and you are wrong then you can honestly say “You are absolutely right” and stop the argument mid-sentence.
The other way of looking at it is that there are people who are really good at making marriage work – I call these people super-spouses – and there are people who really suck at it. Super spouses have such awesome interpersonal and relationship skills that they can make almost any marriage work. The best way to become a super-spouse is to do on-the-job-training where you identify weaknesses and then improve. So focusing on the 20% where you are wrong is just a wonderful opportunity to get a little closer to being a super-spouse.
Now if you are really serious about becoming a super-spouse then you have to take it to the next level by:
3. Telling your spouse exactly how you would do it differently in the current situation or the most recent situation.
4. Identify other situations in the past when you could have done it the new way.
5. Identify at least 2 other situations outside of your marriage (e.g. with your kids, siblings, or coworkers) where you have the same problem and can benefit from making the same changes.
6. Ask your spouse to help you change by giving you a signal that both of you can agree on in advance (a gentle touch on the shoulder or a code word) that they can use whenever you fall into the old pattern, whether that is with them or somebody else.
7. Ask your spouse to give you positive feedback whenever you make any progress towards the new way.
If your spouse continually brings up a long list of things from the past, take the one where it is easiest for you to apply the YAAR program and find a time when you can go through the 7-steps above with them regarding that issue. Then once you have made progress on that issue, pick the next easiest one to apply to program to, etc. until you have worked through the whole list.
There is a big bonus in using the YAAR program – you are modeling for your spouse how to be coachable – how to take criticism without being defensive. If you begin doing this regularly then you will find that your spouse will automatically begin being less defensive with you.
The YAAR program builds and expands on what David Burns, MD calls the Disarming Technique as described in his book “Feeling Good Together”
Burns, D. D. (2008). Feeling good together : the secret of making troubled relationships work. New York, Broadway Books.