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Manage Conflict with Your Partner Using the Speaker-Listener Technique: Lessons Learned from “Becoming Parents”

Manage Conflict with Your Partner Using the Speaker-Listener Technique: Lessons Learned from “Becoming Parents”

Learning how to get along with your partner is so important—not just for each of you, but also for your children. This week on the Growing Good Dads blog, we’ll detail some strategies for getting along with your partner, specifically during your child’s infancy. However, these tips are applicable for all kinds of couple relationships, and you may find them useful even if you don’t have children yet. 

At Good Dads, we love the dad-friendly book Becoming Parents: How to Strengthen Your Marriage as Your Family Grows, and much of the advice we offer in this blog comes from the methods and techniques detailed by authors Howard Markman, Pamela Lynne Jordan and Scott Stanley.

 

Communicating Well = Co-Parenting Well

Communication is one of the most important aspects of any healthy relationship, and it is likewise important for partners to learn to communicate well before a child is born. If clear communication and expectations are established before your child is born, both parents have an equal opportunity to contribute to their infant’s development.

 

Healthy Communication Mitigates the Stress of Parenthood

It’s no secret that raising a child is a stressful experience. Parents have a lot on their plates: Work, chores, maintaining relationships and the chaos of daily life all require a great deal of time. Establishing healthy communication before your child is born can greatly mitigate the stress child-rearing will add.

Becoming aware of how you and your partner handle conflict can be very beneficial. Avoiding escalation, invalidation, withdrawal, and negatively interpreting your partner’s intentions or actions will help. Fostering a greater awareness of how you and your partner handle conflict helps lead to healthier strategies for dealing with said conflict. 

What Might be Preventing Us from Truly Understanding Each Other?

Another strategy for understanding and managing conflict has to do with becoming aware of your own biases or “filters.” Everyone has biases and filters; they help people decide what they do or don’t like. Similarly, anytime you speak, especially during conflicts, your words are being filtered by your partner—and vise-versa. Sometimes, despite good intentions, people will hear what they want to hear. Pay close attention to these common potential filters to help reduce the severity of your arguments.

  • Listen for exactly what your partner is trying to express, not what you anticipate they are going to say.
  • Weigh your emotional states. If you both are tired, hungry or otherwise distracted, you might be sacrificing the quality of your communication.
  • Seek to understand your and your partner’s beliefs about the relationship and expectations for child-rearing. You two are probably not on the same page about everything, so be aware of your differences.
  • Check for your own self-defense mechanisms.

So far we’ve talked about some ways to increase your ability to recognize filters, communication differences and disparities in expectations. But this is not always enough.

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This final tip covers a technique that can help to make arguments less one-sided: The Speaker-Listener Technique. For this technique to be effective, it is important to follow some ground rules:

Rules for Both of You

The speaker has the floor. Use an object (whatever you have laying around will work fine) to distinguish the roles in this exercise. Whoever has “the floor” (a kitchen spatula, a bookmark, a diaper—it doesn’t matter what the object is!) has the right to talk.

Share the floor. Both you and your partner need an opportunity to express yourself and how you feel in the relationship. Pass the object back and forth during the steps described below.

DO NOT try to problem-solve. This technique is about making one another feel seen and heard while offering a safe space to discuss problems. Don’t rush to solve the problem.

Focus on one topic at a time. This can be hard as many issues in relationships are interwoven. Breaking down a topic piece by piece and creating understanding between one another is more important.

Don’t immediately try to problem solve following the Speaker-Listener discussion. Expressing your feelings and creating a better understanding between you and your partner is the goal of this technique. Rushing into trying to fix things could just lead to more argument—especially if you disagree about how the problem ought to be solved.

Last and most importantly, authentically engage in this exercise. It is easy to allow our biases or filters to get in the way and prevent us from understanding or even wanting to understand your partner.

 

 

Rules for the Speaker

Speak for yourself. Do not attempt to guess your partner’s experience. Express how you feel while using “I” language. Avoid accusing your partner and focus on what you felt.

DO NOT go on and on. Expressing your feelings and needs is important, but give space for your partner to do so as well. Trade “the floor” frequently so you both have an opportunity to speak.

Let the listener paraphrase what you said. After a couple sentences of expressing yourself, STOP! Allow your partner to paraphrase what you just said so you can ensure they understand what you meant. If your partner didn’t quite understand you, it’ll become clear during the paraphrase. This is your opportunity to further explain yourself.

Rules for the Listener

Paraphrase what the speaker says. When the speaker finishes a sentence about how they feel, put what they said in your own words and repeat it back to them. This not only allows you to better understand your partner’s position but allows your partner to know they are understood.

Focus on the message. It is easy to get caught up in an argument or for our filters to get in the way of progress. This is not the time for refuting and arguing. Instead, do your best to listen and understand.

 

See more about the Speaker-Listener Technique in the Becoming Parents book.

 

Following the Speaker-Listener Technique, understanding your filters and establishing parenting expectations will equip you to communicate better as a couple. Giving space for both parents to be equal contributors to your infant, being mindful of bias when arguing, and practicing techniques when you do argue and help make your relationship with each other and with your infant healthier.

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