Marital quarrel where both partners were equally at fault (in different, unrelated ways). What are some frameworks/techniques for talking this out evenhandedly without the conversation shifting to be mostly about only one person's concerns, ignoring the other's?
posted by Bardolph to human relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This concerns an argument with my husband a couple of days ago. In its wake, I feel hurt and distanced, and I'd really like to start a follow-up discussion to sort things out. I'm having problems figuring out how to frame it, though, and I was hoping the Hive Mind could help. Relevant background: good marriage, generally healthy communication.
[Here's what went down, in a nutshell. Condensed it as much as I could, but feel free to skip!
1. I brought up a minor parenting concern, but phrased it in what was probably an unnecessarily accusatory fashion (I'm pregnant and have been... a little on edge lately).
2. He kind of dismissed the entire thing and said it was a matter of opinion, with a mildly irritating side-comment about men's vs. women's parenting styles.
3. I agreed I'd get him some hard evidence, but unwisely also tried a quick appeal to authority, pointing out that I've actually researched this issue quite a bit in the past and also that he doesn't, in my experience, have a great track record with the parenting skill in question.
4. Unfortunately, I phrased that last bit (unintentionally) in a way that could be construed as reflecting on his competence at his job. At this point, he got super defensive, and loudly and aggressively said that (a) because of his work experience, he considers himself to be categorically better-versed in this subject than I am, and (b) I "needed to adjust my tone" before we could continue the discussion.
5. I proposed we adjourn until later (small child in the room), and we did. I did apologize to him later that night for having said anything that might have seemed insulting, and tried to reaffirm that I do respect his work skills. He accepted the apology but didn't really say anything in return.
In retrospect, I calculate the proportion of blame for this whole thing as maybe 60:40 me:him? On one hand, I was the one trying to "fix" his parenting, I did so in an unduly irritating/critical fashion, and I seem to have really hurt his feelings re: his job. On the other hand, it's problematic that he initially just dismissed my concerns altogether, that he refused to hear more about the reasoning behind them, and that he responded to the perceived insult in such an over-the-top fashion; I'd like some acknowledgment of that from him. I also don't want the original parenting question to fall completely by the wayside, because I'm pretty sure I'm correct and it's a not-unimportant thing. ]
The tl;dr upshot: I was wrong, he was wrong, and it'd be great to have a marital Thrash-It-Out Discussion with him about this. We have these with some regularity (maybe twice a year or so)-- we're both pretty analytical, talky sorts of people, so they usually end up being very long, linear, debate-style affairs, with multiple well-marked points and sub-points, etc. By the end, there's always additional clarity and understanding and a sense of renewed intimacy (plus, great sex!). The difficulty is that every single one of these so far has taken the classic form of "You Did (/Do) This, And It Wasn't(/Isn't) Cool," with one person (identity varies) the clear aggrieved party and the other one the grievance-creator. The discussion then aims to resolve to what extent the aggriev-er is actually at fault and what kinds of concessions/apologies are due to the aggrieved party.
I have absolutely no idea how this should work in the more complicated case of "OK, I Did This, and It Wasn't Cool, But Can You Admit That YOU Did THIS, and It Also Wasn't Cool?" Again, we're linear, argumentative people, and he in particular is pretty resistant to being made to deliver apologies or admit that his behavior should have been different in any way. Actively bringing up and explaining my issues with his behavior feels to me a bit like I'd be unfairly minimizing my own misdeeds. On the other hand, trying to focus equally on both sets of concerns at the same time, especially when they're not really related, seems likely to end up in a big ol' unproductive non-sequitur-fest.
We're all such faulty people, MeFites, that some of you must have encountered this double-fault situation before. What are some good strategies for managing such a conversation so that everyone feels heard? How do you address someone else's legitimate grievances while still leaving room to voice concerns of your own?