“Just once I’d like to be able to talk with Jake about money and not have it end up in an argument,” Melissa thinks. Every time Brooke and her mother are in the same room, the yelling starts. Brady has tried to discuss his mother’s dementia with Dad, but they never get to what’s important.
Often, the most important conversations we need to have with those we love quickly head down into familiar dead ends despite our best intentions. We begin the conversations hoping this time will be different, but it doesn’t take long before we’re having the same fight or one of us retreats into silence.
Those dead ends appear in any number of ways. We keep asking the same question or stating the same fact as though the other person will suddenly recognize its brilliance the ninth time they hear it. We shift from the topic at hand to re-argue an argument we had months or years ago, as if we can resolve it now. We raise our voices or shift into snide tones and sarcasm, even though none of those ever causes someone to change their minds. Or we desperately try to get the other person to change their perception of the situation to match ours and are overcome by frustration.
When you think about similar situations with your loved ones, I want you to ask yourself a question: are you truly looking for solutions or is your real goal to be heard? Much of the time, we simply want others to acknowledge our point of view, even if we know they’ll never agree. Instead, we become defensive and find ourselves heading toward those familiar dead ends. When that happens, the best thing to do is stop. Continuing arguments almost never resolves anything. Most of the time, it actually makes things worse.
One of the best ways to avoid dead ends is to stay off the paths that inevitably lead you to them. If Melissa bringing up money with Jake always leads to an argument, maybe it’s time to find a different way to talk about it. Maybe Brady’s father is frightened by what’s happening to his wife or angry that his son is offering unsolicited advice.
Keeping relationships healthy requires being able to have conversations about difficult subjects. If you’re finding it impossible to do that, it may be time to ask for some help. A counselor can help you analyze why your conversations keep making those wrong turns and offer suggestions for better ways to initiate the subjects. Sometimes it just helps to approach situations with a different perspective. The first step is recognizing the futility of your current approach, and reaching out to talk to someone.
Teresa Haskins is one of Care to Change’s counselors who help marriages