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Arguing With Your Partner? This Exercise Can Help

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistMay 27, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Being in lockdown has put stress on your relationship with your partner. Even as things open up and you can get a little space, you may feel a reflexive pull to argue whenever you have any disagreement.

With tensions so high during this pandemic, the way people are approaching conflicts are damaging relationships more than the actual topics being discussed. What’s needed is a change in perspective and tactics.

One solution, offered in an article I had read decades ago, is Japanese “pillow talk” – no, not the kind that generally takes place in the bedroom. This kind of pillow talk is a strategy for understanding and working through problems. Give it a try:

Start by placing a four-sided pillow in front of you. Think of each side of the pillow as representing a different perspective. These perspectives are:

  1. You are right and your partner is wrong.
  2. Your partner is right and you are wrong.
  3. Your partner and you are both right.
  4. Your partner and you are both wrong.

As you sit in front of the pillow, articulate the first perspective to yourself. Then move to the next side of the pillow and articulate the second perspective. Continue to do this until you have expressed all four perspectives. 

As you proceed through this exercise, make sure you spend time exploring and embracing each perspective to your best ability. You don’t need to fully agree with any one of the sides. You simply need to be able to understand each perspective and have it make sense on some level. An extremely important part of this exercise is choosing to really try to “get” what your partner is experiencing and trying to express. It is through understanding, empathy, and compassion that we can remain emotionally connected even in the face of conflict.

Finally, sit on top of the pillow and consider how the four perspectives are both true and not true.  Then consider how the “truth” is subjective and that ascertaining who is correct distracts from a greater realization or awareness. That greater realization might be that your emotional connection is what you value most. With this in mind, ask yourself if knowing who is right is worth the price of losing that connection.

Engaging fully in this exercise will not be easy. You will need to put time and energy into stretching yourself with it. This is especially true if you have generally been feeling anxious or stressed from the state of the world. However, even when you maintain your preferred perspective (not one held by your partner), this exercise can help you to be more understanding of your partner. You might begin to appreciate how their stresses and struggles inform their opinions and reactions. And it can also help you to keep your focus on the relationship. Ultimately, it is the caring connection between the two of you that you want to nurture and sustain – no matter who wins which argument.



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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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