Archive for month: November, 2013

keyboard with a blue Translate button

Need Marriage Help? Does Your Partner Ever Sound Like They Speak A Foreign Language? How To Handle Conflict Using Mediation Techniques

When you are arguing with someone do you ever feel like the other person is speaking a foreign language? That they don’t make any sense?

When this happens to me it is like listening to french over twenty years after studying it in high school — I recognize a few words but miss the larger meaning!

When this happens to you I bet you give the other person a blank perplexed look, feeling confused and frustrated.

And then you start arguing or angrily walk away, right?

Help Wanted: A Translator Is Needed For Marriage Help

I am sure you won’t be surprised that I see this dynamic among mediation clients all the time.

A client once told me that her friend questioned the time she was putting in to her divorce mediation. She wanted to know if it was worth the travel, the money, and the time. My client answered with an emphatic, YES!

Asked why, she explained that it was because she felt the mediator was her translator – without me none of her thoughts, feelings or ideas would be heard or understood by her husband.

So What Does This Have To Do With Me???


This is not a sales pitch for mediation.

It is a sales pitch for thinking differently when faced with a frustrating conversation.

In my experience, when someone sounds like they are speaking a foreign language it is not because what they are saying is inherently wrong or bad. It is the WAY they are saying it that is completely ineffective.

Let’s take my mediation couple as an example.

They would come in full of anger and indignation over an issue that took place earlier in the week. I would meet with one and hear their story. I would meet with the other and hear their story. And here’s what was uncanny.

It was the same story! Just told and interpreted in very different ways.

This particular case required many private sessions. When I would report back to one of them about progress on the problem du jour, they would look at me in surprise, and have a hard time believing that agreements had been forged.

What if you could get this kind of marriage help on your own without the help of a mediator?

So Here’s the Trick Using Mediation Techniques

Here are two essential tools of the mediation trade that can help you become your own translator.

1. Mediators reflect back what their client is saying.

In other words, they make sure that they truly understand what the person is saying before moving on and responding.

Teachers call this checking for understanding. Counselors call it reflective listening.

Call it what you want.

But don’t respond until you really feel like you understand what the other person is saying.

2. Mediators seek to clarify information.

Rather than reacting to what someone is saying, especially if it seems confusing, illogical or frustrating, follow step #1 and validate, and then ask more questions to gain clarification.

This step is like being a detective — you are drilling for information so you can be confident that you understand what is being said.

3. If you are still confused, rinse and repeat.

Often, you can figure it out on your own with time and effort, and more than a pinch of patience. But it can be done.

It’s hard to resolve conflict when you don’t have a clue what the other person is saying.

Figuring out how to translate is the first step.

In what other ways have you dealt with someone who is confusing and perplexing? Please share your ideas and reactions in the comments section!

LinkedIn Users: If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you for reading my mediation post about marriage help!

Gift wrapped in paper on the wooden background

Relationship Issues Stressing You Out? 3 Tips to Improve Marriage Problems Without a Marriage Counselor

“Why do I NEED to consider her point of view after all the marriage problems we’ve had, and the way she’s treated me?”

A divorce mediation client angrily asked this of me after I made a comment suggesting the possibility that he might need to consider his wife’s perspective.

I was trying to suggest that it might be helpful to understand what she was saying by looking at the situation through her eyes. After all, stepping in to someone else’s shoes is a common approach to improving communication in relationships. Well, the word “need” really set him off!

In hindsight it was clearly a poor word choice by me.

After a moment’s reflection I told him that I was wrong to use the word “need” and that in fact he did not “need” to do anything that he did not want to do. This calmed him down.

To his surprise I followed up by asking him what the harm would be in considering her point of view.

Now it was his turn to take a moment to reflect. To his credit he tried to consider her perspective.

Your Laziness Might Be Creating Your Marriage Problems…and Creating Business for Your Local Marriage Counselor!

I learned an important lesson from this exchange.

I had developed a very comfortable rapport with this client (we had met several times already). My comfort led to a lazy statement that made him defensive.

Similarly, couples get comfortable with one another. Over time, their internal censor diminishes and they sometimes talk before thinking. Their message may be rough around the edges, their partner bristles, and the stressful relationship issues rear their ugly heads.

Don’t we get lazy in the way we communicate all the time in our relationships at home?

Want to Stay Out of the Marriage Counselor’s Office? Package the Message Properly and Your Marriage Problems and Relationship Issues WILL Improve

My client was not adverse to considering an alternative viewpoint – even if it was his wife’s – but he was surely not going to do it because he was told to do so. When he did not feel forced or directed, he found that being able to step in to her shoes for a moment helped him work through the current impasse.

Ultimately, how we go about saying something is often more important than what it is we have to say. It is all about the packaging of the message!

Lazy communication is like crumpled gift-wrapping — it sends the wrong message.

Three Strategies For Improving Your Communication Packaging

1. Tell your partner what you think and feel, NOT what they should think and feel. “I” statements are far more effective than “you” statements.

2. Think about what you want to say before you say it. Just because you are talking to someone you love does not mean they don’t deserve the same sensitivity you would show an employer or member of the clergy! They do.

3. If you are angry or frustrated — heated in any way — wait. Wait until you are calm. Wait until you have had time to think it through.

I have found that the way I frame messages in my work as a mediator, and in my life as a husband, son, and father makes or breaks a difficult conversation.

What additional tips on how to package messages productively can you share with other readers? What other communication strategies can help improve marriage problems?

Hammering nail into wooden surface against light blue background

Relationship Help That Could Save Your Marriage

“Stop trying to fix all my problems!”

“You’re NOT LISTENING to me!”

“You don’t GET it!

Sound familiar in your relationship?

If you or your partner have either uttered something like this out of sheer exasperation, or have had these barbs thrown in your face, you have to watch this video.


Check it out. It’s short and it’s awesome.

Textbook Relationship Problems

C’mon, admit it. You could relate to this dynamic. And I bet you laughed. Or at least smiled.

Relationship Help In Action

I am mediating a parent teen dispute right now.

The parents are scared for their child’s safety and their daughter is feeling smothered. They are both trying to come up with solutions that are going nowhere.

That is, until I suggested the parents simply acknowledge the daughter’s feelings and the daughter acknowledges the parents’ feelings.

Parents: “I know you feel smothered”

Daughter: “Yes, that’s what I’ve been telling you! Finally you understand!”


Daughter: “I know you are scared I’m going to do something stupid and get hurt.”

Parents: With tears in their eyes, “Yes, honey. We just want you to be safe. We love you.”

Did this solve their problems?

Of course not!

But it did help begin to repair their relationship and set the stage for better understanding and communication.

If you are experiencing relationship problems and arguing with someone you care about they likely feel like you don’t understand. Likewise, if you hear something like one of the sharp comments from the beginning of this post, there is a good chance that you skipped a critical step.

The Critical Step That Could Save Your Marriage

Before responding to the words your spouse is saying, respond to the feelings you hear behind the words.

One way to think about this is that if you find both of you repeating yourselves — going back and forth like a seesaw — take a breath, step back, and think about how the other person is feeling.

And then tell them what you are hearing — about their feelings.

Even if you don’t understand it, agree with it, or think it is wildly unfair!

Trying to rationalize feelings is flat-out irrational. There is no right or wrong when it comes to feelings. No one should feel a certain way (click here for why I think the word “should” is so incredibly unhelpful).

Trying to validate feelings, on the other hand, is about as rational as it gets.

People want to feel heard and understood. It doesn’t matter who you are or what gender you are — people tend to remain defensive when they feel judged or misunderstood. Conversely, folks open themselves up to new ideas when they feel the other person “gets” how they are feeling.

Imagery For Helping Relationship Problems

The nail.

Remember the nail!

Even though the literal nail was snagging all of her sweaters, the proverbial nail is the recognition of the other person’s feelings.

Remembering the nail might just help your relationship problems move closer to relationship solutions.

It’s difficult to acknowledge feelings when you are in the midst of a relationship problem — what other strategies can you recommend?