If you find that you and your partner keep having the same fights over and over again, it’s likely that both of you are focused on winning the fight rather than resolving the issue. You probably wind up in a deadlock. Neither of you feels heard or understood. “If you would just listen, you would see that I’m right!” (Translation: If you still don’t think I’m right, then you haven’t been listening.)

Here’s the simple, but not easy, solution: 

Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood.

You’ve probably heard this before. It’s one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a cornerstone of the famous Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. But what does it mean in practice?

It means that as soon as you realize you’re trying to be understood, stop. Recognize it, then set it aside. You can even say it out loud to your partner: “Wait. I’m trying to be understood, but actually I don’t think I understand where you’re coming from, and I want to understand.”

I want you to imagine saying that to your partner in the middle of a fight, and notice what happens in your body. Imagine hearing that from your partner, and again notice how your body responds to that statement. You probably notice an easing of tension, shoulders dropping slightly, that chaos in your chest settling down. Those are good signs; they’re signs that your nervous system is coming down out of fight-or-flight dysregulation, and into a more regulated state, which is where we want to be when we’re trying to resolve an issue. 

See if you can try this the next time you and your partner argue. Once you’ve declared your intention to understand your partner’s perspective first, you might be thinking, “What now? Check out my post on why you’re not as good a listener as you think, and how to listen better.