Do your arguments about some topics blow up into major explosions. Here are some advanced communication skills to help you avoid those minefields.
Start with the first 6 steps of the standard Marital Time-Out Program and then add these additional steps to tame those totally out-of-control hot topics.
7. WRITE AN UNSENT LETTER – As soon as you get to your time-out safe place start writing out your feelings. It is important for you to get everything off of your chest, make sure to include everything that is on your mind. Feel free to include cuss words, bad grammar, etc. The only important thing is to get everything off of your chest. Do not share this with your spouse or anyone else. It is FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
8. RECONVENE AFTER THE ALL-CLEAR – Once both of you have received an all-clear you can end the time-out. The important thing is that you only end the time-out when you are 100% sure that you are out of fight-or-flight AND you have finished the first letter. Take your heart rate, if its still elevated above what it is normally or if any of the other symptoms listed in step 5 still apply to you then you need to do some more calming things before giving the all-clear. Do not try to talk about the issue in any way until you have finished the final letter.
9. WRITE THE 2nd UNSENT LETTER – Wait at least 2 hours but preferably a day to rewrite your letter. The second letter needs to:
- STAY HONEST – Be as honest as the first letter
- FOCUS ON ONE SPECIFIC INSTANCE – Be focused only on the specific issue that triggered the argument. If you had an argument about finances because one of you bounced a check then just talk about that one bounced check, not all of the financial problems you have had since the beginning of your marriage.
- GOOD GRAMMAR – Clean up the grammar and organization, make it something that would make your 8th grade English teacher proud.
10. WRITE THE 3rd UNSENT LETTER – After at least a couple of hours and preferably a day rewrite the second letter. The 3rd letter needs to:
- STAY HONEST – Be as honest as the first letter
- PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR SPOUSE’S SHOES – Imagine that you are your spouse. Read the letter and edit it so that the your spouse would be most likely to be able to hear and accept the points that you are trying to communicate.
- USE LANGUAGE YOUR SPOUSE UNDERSTANDS – Take into account all of the knowledge that you have of this person, the things that make them defensive and the styles of presenting ideas that help them to hear. If they are really into sports you may want to use sports metaphors, if they are really into their kids you may want to use family examples.
- START WITH A COMPLIMENT – If you think giving them an honest compliment in the beginning will add the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, start out with an honest compliment.
- ASK FOR ADVICE – Feel free to ask other people who know the person for pointers on how to get them to hear.
- THINK OF PAST SUCCESSES – Think of times when they have heard difficult issues from you or other people and try to get ideas from those examples.
11. DELIVER THE FINAL LETTER – Once both of you have completed your 3rd letter arrange a time to share them with each other. This should be a prearranged time that is optimal for real understanding, so pick a time when both of you will be well-rested, undistracted and in the best possible mood. The letters can be shared in any of several ways:
- SEND IT – You can send the 3rd letter to your spouse for them to read and process before your meeting.
- HAVE SPOUSE READ IT – You can have them read it in your presence.
- YOU READ IT – You can read it to them at the meeting.
- USE IT AS A SCRIPT – You can keep the letter in your back pocket as a hidden script for what you say when you talk with them.
- BRING IT TO YOUR MARRIAGE COUNSELOR – You can bring in the letters to your counselor in your next therapy session.
12. TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SPOUSE AND START PROBLEM SOLVING- When you read or hear your spouse’s letter try your best to understand things from your spouse’s perspective. Real communication only happens when you fully understand the situation from your spouse’s perspective and your spouse fully understands the situation from your perspective. Real problem solving only happens when you focus on things that you can change in your behavior or attitude to make things better and your spouse does the same.
- FOCUS ON WHAT YOU AGREE WITH – Pick the parts of your spouse’s letter that you agree with the most and try to understand it from their perspective. Try to focus on the parts you agree with instead of falling into the trap of starting to pick it apart and finding the parts you think are wrong.
- COMMIT TO CHANGE ONE THING ON YOUR PART – Based on the part that you understand and agree with identify at least one concrete change that you can make that will help to fix the problem and/or move the 2 of you to a better place. Commit to making that change and ask your spouse to give you feedback whenever you succeed.