I had a divorce mediation client who loved to win.
He loved to win in basketball, business, and investments. His success in life was a result of his competitive nature, he believed.
His wife hated his competitive nature. She thought it was short-sighted and interfered with their communication and decision-making.
Losing Marriage Arguments
They both complained vehemently during private conflict mediation sessions that the other always wins arguments. Both felt the more they tried to win the argument, the more they ended on the losing side.
He’s just going to bully me until he wins…
She’s going to talk circles around me until I give in…
And here’s the irony: both were convinced they compromised their principles in order to avoid losing…again and again.
They both felt they lost every argument they had with each other. They both felt they deferred to one another. And both were frustrated, dissatisfied, and often angry.
Can you relate?
Then Why Divorce Mediation?
One day I asked them why they were in mediation? After all, mediation is designed to avoid having a winner and a loser. It is collaborative in nature and developing win-win solutions is the ultimate goal.
They explained that they did not want to sue one another. They wanted to avoid the time, money and stress litigation would likely bring.
They thought it was important to work it out together. They still had to parent together, after all. They wanted to try to do what was in the kids’ best interest.
It is interesting, I noted, that winning was not one of their stated goals for participating in conflict mediation.
Why then, I asked, were so many of their discussions framed as issues to be won or lost?
3 Steps to Improve Marriage Communication Using Conflict Mediation Techniques
Can you relate to feeling like you come out on the losing end of every argument in your relationships?
Do you begin conversations feeling defensive and guarded, prepared to defend your positions? Starting defensively is a recipe for disaster. Instead, try these strategies:
1. Talk about how you’re going to talk to each other!
Set some ground rules and hold each other accountable. Emphasize areas that usually get in the way of productive conversations.
Interrupt a lot? Agree to avoid interrupting.
Raise voices sometimes? Agree to talk with a normal volume.
Roll your eyes at each other? No eye-rolling, then.
This works best when you can agree on how you are going to respond to one another when the other makes a mistake (which will happen).
2. Understand BOTH points of view.
Change your goal of persuading the other to understand your position. Instead, make a shared goal of understanding each other’s point of view.
And articulate out loud, without judgment, the other person’s perspective. Knowing that you understand one another creates a respectful and empathic tone to the discussion.
3. Brainstorm solutions that work for BOTH of you.
Brainstorm a flurry of ideas, no matter how outside of the box.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and generate options that might work for them that could also work for you.
You may come up with some crazy unrealistic solutions. But in the process you will eventually strike gold and identify a solution that can work for both of you.
Back To Our “Losing” Couple…
It was slow going and full of setbacks but they tried to adjust the winning-losing paradigm to a winning-only collaborative paradigm.
When they shifted back to their old narrative of winning and losing I would ask if it was helpful. Was focusing on winning (versus losing) addressing the things that were most important to both of them?
Eventually, they began to frame discussions differently. They generated some solutions that would never have been considered — or even identified — if they stayed exclusively in the winning v. losing mindset.
My high conflict mediation clients had learned how to win more arguments. There just was no loser as part of the equation!
What other ways can staying out of the winning/losing paradigm can lead to you to “winning?”
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