Friday, November 26, 2010

The Scheduled Argument: An Oddly Useful Communication Technique

When I was in college, I had a class that basically centered on relationship advice. The book had some interesting advice, but the teacher, a marriage counselor by trade, had even more. One of the things that she mentioned was having a "scheduled argument."

The idea was fairly simple. We don't have time to argue about everything that comes up, and conflict can cause both an emotional rift and stressful tension. As a suggested solution, the teacher proposed that each partner in the marriage kept a list of items that they wanted to discuss — items which they knew would probably cause conflict.

Whether it was "I don't like how much time you spend on that online casino," or "I wish I could have more personal space," or "I want to spend more money on vacations" didn't matter. The list was kept private, with both partners committing to avoiding the conflict until the "appropriately scheduled time." The couple would then schedule a time to go through both of the lists thoroughly. Depending on how many items seemed to build up, this could be a daily, weekly, monthly, or even quarterly discussion.

"Denny's," the teacher said. "Don't do this at home. Don't do this in the place you're used to having conflict. Don't do it in a place you can yell. Do it at Denny's." The idea was that, being surrounded by lots of other people, you're more likely to speak reasonably and keep your emotions in check. Plus, Denny's stays open all night — giving you plenty of time to get things resolved.

The idea definitely doesn't work for everyone, and some people prefer more frequent communication, however, for couples who recognize that conflict is interfering with their other priorities, scheduling an argument can be a good way to make sure issues get resolved — without putting the rest of your life on a back burner.