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September 19

3 Powerful Steps To Diffuse COVID Arguments With Your Spouse (and bring a smile)

3 Powerful Steps To Diffuse COVID Arguments With Your Spouse (and bring a smile)

The Problem

There are 3 steps to diffuse COVID arguments with your spouse.

Your problem is that family members are not taking COVID progression seriously, while you are. It could be your partner or your spouse. It could be your children. It could be your parents. It could be friends. You are feeling anxious. You are feeling frustrated, angry, and pissed off. You are worried and concerned. You are probably a little sad. You are definitely confused.

You feel completely disrespected because you are not feeling heard. And, you may even feel completely abandoned by those you love because of this problem.

On the other hand, your partner or your family members are feeling these emotions too. They are feeling frustrated, angry, and pissed off. They feel harassed. They feel rebellious. They feel like they are experiencing a loss of freedom and liberty by the imposition of social distancing and masking. They feel disrespected. They feel like this is all a huge conspiracy. They may be saying, “I’m healthy. So why should I comply with all this stuff?”

COVID is creating an emotionally volatile brew of powerful emotions that can lead to fights and arguments with your spouse.

Fundamental Issues That Escalate Arguments With Your Spouse

The COVID crisis is revealing different values held around the pandemic. For example, there are rule followers versus people who do not want to follow the rules. There are people who are risk-averse versus people who are risk indifferent. There are people who accept science and accept the advice of scientists and medical professionals. There are people who reject science and the advice of medical professionals. These are very different perspectives and realities about what is going on with the pandemic.

The polarization of the response to COVID has created an unwillingness to compromise. There is mistrust between loved ones, and there is a growing lack of respect for each other’s different attitudes, values, and perspectives. These fundamental issues escalate arguments with your spouse.

What Are the Needs That Must Be Met For Arguments With Your Spouse to Stop

The arguments are not about the issues, however. As is the case with every difficult conflict, you and your spouse have underlying needs. These needs include:

  • The need for safety
  • The need for trust
  • The need for freedom
  • The need for security
  • The need for stability
  • The need to be vindicated, and
  • The need to be heard, to be listened to, and to be understood.

Unless these needs are satisfied, arguments with your spouse will not stop.

Listening Others Into Existence Is The Secret to Diffusing Arguments With Your Spouse

When you satisfy your spouse’s need to be heard, listened to, and understood, arguments will be diffused and de-escalated in seconds. Here are the three steps to diffuse arguments with your spouse:

First, Ignore the Words

So how do we diffuse fights and arguments over COVID? Very simply, we listen others into existence.

We listen to the emotions, not the words. We ignore the words, in fact. The reason is this: When we are talking to our spouse, a family member, or a close friend around these COVID issues. We are triggered. If we can ignore the words, they will not trigger us.

We are less likely to become angry, frustrated, disrespected, and not heard if we literally ignore what others are saying.

That does not mean we ignore people. No.  We will pay attention to them in a very different and deeper way by ignoring the words. When we ignore the words, we free up bandwidth to allow us to listen to what is important.

Ignoring the words does not mean that you are not going to hear the words. You are not going to pay attention to them. You will make the words that are being spoken white noise for 30 or 40 seconds.

Second, Read the Emotions

Next, read the emotions. What does that mean? We want to know what our partner or family member is experiencing emotionally. Our brains recognize the emotional experiences of others. It is not something that we practice very often because of cultural bias against emotional competency.

We learn from a very young age that emotions are bad and dangerous. We learn implicitly that emotions cannot be controlled and lead to chaos. This has been the teaching since the time of Plato and Aristotle.

98% emotional, 2% rationalThis conventional wisdom is wrong. We are 98% emotional and 2% rational. We are emotional beings, not rational beings. Our emotions make us human, not our ability to think. Unfortunately, we have not learned to be emotionally competent.

Neuroscience reveals some astounding and counterintuitive facts. For example, we cannot be rational unless we are emotional first. How will you even know to engage in rational thinking unless you had some emotion first? The only reason that you would know to think carefully comes from an emotion that alerted you to a problem.

How do you read the emotions? It is easy. Simply be in silence and present with your spouse as you are ignoring his or her words. In a few seconds, your brain will automatically start to recognize the emotions.

Everyone shares the same emotions fighting and arguing over COVID. People are angry and pissed off. They are frustrated. They are not feeling heard. They feel disrespected. They feel treated unfairly. Maybe they feel sad because there is a loss of connection. Maybe, they feel shame or embarrassment. Maybe, even deeper, they feel unloved and abandoned. With just a few words, you can cover the vast majority of emotional experiences your spouse might be experiencing.

Reflect the Emotions With a “You” Statement

The last step, which is the most counterintuitive and, in some ways, the most difficult, is to reflect back the speaker’s emotions with a simple “you” statement. You will say something like:

  • “You’re really pissed off and angry,” or
  • “You don’t feel like you’re being heard or listened to, or
  • “You feel completely disrespected.”

You will reflect on whatever emotions you are sensing from your spouse.

Why a “you” statement? Many people have learned so-called active listening, where they learn to use an “I” statement.  An example would be, “What I think you are feeling is anger.” The problem is that “I” statements do not work. They never have. They never will.

If you do not believe me, then do this test. Find a friend and have her tell you a story with some emotionality in it. Reflect back using an “I” statement and then reflect back again, using a “you” statement. Ask your friend which reflection was more powerful.

Most people feel like the person using “I” statements is rude, manipulative, and patronizing.

How to Have a Calm Conversation and Stop Arguments With Your Spouse Over COVID

The secret to how to stop fights and arguments with your spouse over COVID is to ask four questions and reflect your spouse’s emotions with “you” statements.

This is not about you. It is about you listening your spouse into existence.

Tell Me How Your Life Experiences Have Led You to Your Beliefs Around COVID

The first question is “Tell me how your life experiences have led you to your beliefs around COVID.” When you ask this question, your spouse may give you a funny look and say, “Huh?”

Our beliefs form from life experience. If you have a spouse who is anti-authoritarian, risk indifferent, or does not want to be told what to do by health authorities, what is it in his life history that led him to this belief?

As your spouse tells you his or her story, you will listen to and reflect back the emotions. As you reflect with a simple “you” statement, your spouse will feel deeply heard and validated. You will diffuse his anger almost instantly.

You are not challenging anything that happened to him. You are not challenging beliefs. You are not telling him that his wrong. No judgment here. All you are trying to do is to get him to reflect on how he formed his beliefs. As you do this, as you will start seeing common life experiences. You will learn that you have much more in common than you have differences.

Yes, you might disagree about some issues or values around COVID, but you will have far more in common. The only way you get to this common ground is by asking people to talk about their life stories. This conversation might take a while.

When your spouse tells you how her life history led to her belief, you may ask a second question.

How Do Your Beliefs Inform Your Everyday Life?

Beliefs are nothing more than decision-making shortcuts. If we have a strong belief about something, we do not have to ponder the problem anymore. We can simply rely on our beliefs to tell us what to do.

When we have a deeply held belief, we have built-in mechanisms that make it very difficult to change those beliefs. Trying to argue against beliefs is like pounding your head against a brick wall. You are just not going to get anywhere.

Instead, you ask the question, “How do your beliefs inform your everyday life?”

Most people have never been asked this question before. You will not comment on anything your spouse says. All you want her to do is tell you what her thinking is. And, of course, you reflect back her emotions.

Now you are ready to ask the third question.

How Do You Manage People Who Disagree With You?

The third question is, “How do you manage people who disagree with you?”

Well, you already know one answer to that question: arguing with your spouse.

You want your spouse to reflect on people with different beliefs. How does he manage the differences? Your snarky spouse will come off with a flippant statement. “I always shoot them all.” He is reactively dismissing the idea that other people can have different beliefs. You have to be persistent about it. He might say, “Well, I really try to avoid people like that.”

The truth is that he is uncertain how to respond to people with different beliefs. He may be uncomfortable, anxious, frustrated, angry, and pissed off. He does not feel respected around people who disagree with him. He will avoid, become defensive, or become aggressive because he does not have any other way of dealing with people who have beliefs different from his.

For the first time, he may think about, “Well, gee, how do I manage my differences?” This can open up a fruitful, powerful conversation about your relationship.

How Should Our Society Manage These Different Beliefs?

The fourth question is, “How should our society manage these different beliefs?”

Again, listen to and reflect the emotions. Your spouse might say, “Well, I think that anybody who disagrees with me should be locked up. They should be shot.”

Do not judge that. Do not criticize it. Just ask, “Tell me more.”

What will eventually come out is that your spouse feels anxious and frustrated when confronted with different beliefs. He just does not know how to deal with them. All he can do is emotionally react because he may not self-regulate very well.

He might figure out that, “You know, just because I get pissed off at this group or that group doesn’t mean that they don’t don’t have a right to express themselves.” This can lead to a conversation about, “Well, how can we coexist when we have these very different beliefs? How can we self-regulate regulate so that we don’t disrespect each other and don’t get each other pissed off?”

How the Conversation Will Stop Arguments With Your Spouse

These questions will lead you into an interesting negotiation around how to deal with COVID. Mask or no mask; Social distancing, no social distancing. What most people will find is that if they have a partner who totally disagrees, but at least understands, there will movement to accommodate beliefs without compromising on personal beliefs.

If nothing else, you will develop a higher level of sensitivity to each other that will moderate you a little bit. The fighting will tend to go away. If fighting does erupt again, all you have to do is fall back on listening your spouse into existence. He or she is not being listened to when angry. Ignore the words, read the emotions, and reflect back the emotions with a simple use statement. These are the 3 secrets to diffusing arguments with your spouse around COVID or anything else.

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About the Author

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.

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