I have developed my Rules for Discussion that I give to my couples to help them learn how to discuss the big issues and sometimes the small ones. The rules have five steps.
1. Determine the Purpose of the Discussion. This is to keep you on track and to manage expectations. Ask yourself what are you trying to resolve or discuss.
2. Set a Time and a Place for the Discussion. This also includes a start and an end time. Estimate how much time you will need to talk about the issue. For example, don’t start a heavy discussion about money as you are trying to get the kids off to school and you off to work. You have just set your discussion up for failure.
3. Assume the Positive. This is a key step and possibly the most difficult for couples or relationships that have been contentious. But in order to move forward, you have to keep the negatives of your past in the past.
4. Make Sure Each Person Gets to Talk. No one person should dominate the conversation. I like to use the ball method – whoever has the ball is his or her hand is the speaker and the other person is the listener. The goal of the listener is not to listen to dispute what the other person is saying, but to listen to understand. I teach my clients how to do this as it’s an important skill for people to learn.
5. Use the Time Out. This is sometimes called the pause and it’s an important tool to master. Basically it’s used when either party is becoming overwhelmed, angry, or just needs a break, or when the conversation is going off the agreed topic or there is not enough time to finish the conversation. It’s not to be used as a punitive measure and a time limit for the time out should be set.
The bottom line to all this is good, positive discussions with your partner take practice and a desire for change. Respecting each other is key to success. If you’d like a copy of my Rules for Discussion (much more in depth than this summary), please let me know. I’m happy to share them with you.