Anybody who does something long enough will draw their own conclusions – make their own connections between events & experiences. No description of the therapy experience could be more apt. Nothing could be a better example of this series of observations than The Great Debate that enters my office over and again. So many times, I have sat with two people who seek help with “communication issues” and when I have a chance to experience these frustrating communication conundrums (bet you didn’t think you’d read that phrase today!) I so often see people descending into their Great Debate. One person has something they want to get across and after he has laid it out, he will sit back with the hope and expectation that his partner will get it. Yet, what does she do? Almost invariably she will respond with her position, hoping that she will be able to communicate her point of view. My early trainers and teachers in Emotionally Focused Therapy would continually admonish us not to “go down the content tube.” With every issue that confronts a couple (sharing housework, dealing with money, struggling over parenting issues, where to go for vacation, etc. etc.) there is his side and her side (or her side and her side or his side and his side). When people bring these struggles into my office I am shown The Great Debate and invariably (I mean invariably), each person gives up, exhausted and deflated. As well they would be!!!
So here’s the way out of this frustrating circle. Realize that the chances of convincing the other person that you are right and they are wrong will be very slim. The second step, that is so crucial, is to understand and appreciate that there is something else that feels vital that underlays The Great Debate. It may be about having a crucial emotional need recognized. It may be about being seen and valued by your partner. Usually, these needs (which are what the Debate is about on the most fundamental level) are outside of our awareness, yet they spark our intensity. Needless to say, this devolution into Debate, is a particular interpersonal hazard for those trained in law. The mistake is to seek to persuade the other. This will almost always spark the Debate and steer us away from understanding and ultimate agreement – in whatever form that may take.