How one can Argue Productively with Your Partner, In line with a Business Litigator Mother
I get paid to fight people. Literally. As a business litigation attorney, it’s my job all day long to create and deliver arguments about money (why my client should get it or not pay). That back and forth has taught me a lot about how to argue effectively over the years – and the golden nuggets I brought along have come in handy when it comes to disagreements with my husband.
I feel compelled to take a quick detour here and say that I absolutely adore my husband. He is my best friend and the love of my life. Our marriage is the second for both of us and – so as not to get completely silly and doe-eyed – we are in love. I think the whole divorce business gave us each a better screening process. Fourteen years, two children, and one hell of a pandemic later, we’re still totally together.
Despite hearts and flowers, my husband and I definitely fight. Hot sometimes. After spending a full year together dealing with all of the stress associated with this global pandemic, it would be completely unnatural if we didn’t argue. But as a side effect of my professional training, our arguments are (almost!) Always effective.
This is how to stay loving and respectful when competing with your spouse.
Openly admit where your argument is weak – right from the start.
When arguing before a judge, effective lawyers are quick to admit that they have unfavorable facts or that there are laws that could be construed against their position. Why? For one thing, it creates credibility. Hiding bad facts – or worse, law – to make you or your customer look your best will always backfire. And guess who’s caught in the middle of all the shrapnel? (Ahem. That would be you).
Second, admitting where your argument is weak takes the bite out of any fumble your opponent used to try to hit you. Presenting a weakness before the other side can highlight it diminishes its perceived importance and impact.
The same is true if you are arguing with your spouse. Talking openly about how you contributed to the argument can help build and strengthen trust. Plus, you appear rational, which means that your spouse is actually listening to you.
For example, if my husband were to bite my head off in front of the children because, say, he dishonored our budget and spent too much at Athleta (of course, hypothetically speaking), my first words to him would, when appropriate, trying it out: “You’re right about the budget. I should have been more aware of what I was spending. ”And my next words would be,“ It’s not okay to sniff at me and it’s not okay to do it in front of our children ”.
Nine times out of ten, my admission of wrongdoing will completely dispel his anger. Instead of trying to make me the bad guy, his goal will be to explain his point of view. He will also likely admit where he was wrong, and then our common goal will be to be reconciled.
Nice how it works, isn’t it?
Use your inner voice.
I know when emotions run high it is tempting to raise your voice, especially when you are feeling attacked or downright angry. But if there’s one thing litigation attorneys don’t do while making an argument, it’s screaming or name-calling.
And for a good reason. Aside from decency and professionalism, it’s like stepping on the brakes and accelerating at the same time. It won’t get you anywhere. The person on the receiving end will not be able to digest what is being said as the sheer volume of your voice will put them in fight or flight mode. This applies regardless of whether you are speaking to an opposing attorney, your children, or your spouse.
While I am a big advocate of fully experiencing your emotions and feeling all feelings so that you can let them go (especially anger, hurt, and frustration), you save yourself the screaming when it is not directed at the person you are with sharing a duvet.
Don’t try to win.
Unlike in the courtroom, when you and your significant other are arguing, there shouldn’t be a clear winner. Neither of you will go away with a piece of paper that says “GRANTED” or “DENIED”. Nobody keeps points.
Truth? There is no such thing as “winning”. At its core, an argument between two people who love each other is about communication. It’s about making sure the person on the other side understands where you’re from and can acknowledge your feelings. The goal is to overcome the disagreement with a better understanding of your partner and a blueprint of how the two of you would deal with a similar situation the next time – not declaring yourself “right” and the other person “wrong” .
Disagreements and debates are healthy in a relationship – no couple can always agree on everything. (How scary would that be?) Just remember that when you have these leggings on, the two of you are human. They both want to be seen and heard.
So I don’t agree, yes. Argue, yes. Then come back to being on the same team and raising your beautiful people together.
Nikki Oden is the founder of Your Ideal Mom Life and host of the Love Your Mom Life podcast. She teaches working mothers how to make their day and crush their goals without the mother’s fault. She is also an attorney, happy wife, mother of two, and the creator of the Super Mom Starter Guide. Download it for FREE to learn the three things all moms who rock it know know!