A guest post from one of my dear prayer partners:
Maybe try this with your husband next time you have an argument. Often men (women too) don’t even know how to communicate effectively. Maybe we can provide some sweet assistance.
It starts with understanding two very different approaches:
- A “strawman” is a misrepresentation of someone’s position or argument that is easy to defeat. With this approach, your goal is to create a win/lose situation where you win and the other person loses.
- A “steelman” is an actual improvement of someone’s position or argument that is far harder to defeat than their originally stated position or argument. The goal of this approach is to completely understand the other person’s argument to create a win/win.
My husband and I use the steelman concept at home to get each other’s positions as accurately and strongly as possible until the other agrees that it is what they are trying to say. This validates the other person’s position and we both know we deeply understand one another.
From there we can have a full discussion about what to do.
(This works with other relationships, as well.)
Why the Steelman Approach Blesses Your Marriage
In other words, unlike in court, we have to help our spouse (and this goes both directions) make their arguments and points if we want to truly, deeply solve things.
Every spouse wants to have his/her thoughts taken seriously and not brushed aside.
The best way to do this is to show that you deeply understand the thrust of your husband’s argument by improving on the way the core idea is expressed. Even if you don’t agree.
Anything less and you’ll merely be attacking a weak manifestation of their idea, and not the genuine idea itself. In marriage, we have to help each other make the best possible cases.
Try it, it is incredibly validating and softening to our husbands. (I know this from the marriage classes I teach at church.)
Why the Strawman Approach Hurts Your Marriage
In an effort to “win” we create a straw man to engage with. The problem is, it’s only a shallow caricature of our husband’s argument. (Men do this to their wives, too, sometimes.)
That undermines him by attacking the weakest part of his argument. The prideful desire to win at all costs ahead causes untold amounts of marriage problems. I see this so often in the marriage classes I teach.
But if you’re interested in deeply connecting in Christ, more than “winning,” and you really want to reach that person’s heart, there’s a far better way.
I must turn off my “lawyer mode”
It is such a mind-shift for me because in court I attack the weakest part of the opponent’s arguments because I am trying to win. In our marriages, as you know, we can’t win unless we both win together.
I help my husband make his arguments and I even strengthen them where I can. He does the same for me. It is so beautiful and invites trust to blossom in the marriage.
**Note – If there are very severe issues in your marriage, please seek godly, experienced help. This approach is not intended to help you work through problems with an addict, an abuser, or someone who is not in his/her right mind.
3 Steelman Tips
Here are a few of my favorite tips to help you build a steelman for your husband’s argument in a discussion:
- Take his side for a bit. Attempt to re-express your husband’s position so clearly, so vividly and so fairly that he says: “Wow, thank you so much, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” That’s deep understanding and validation!!!
- Institute this rule: Each person can share his/her own views only after they have first restated the ideas and feelings of the other accurately and to the other spouse’s satisfaction.
- Seek to honor God first. Have this mentality: “I just want to live my life to glorify God. I just want to do the things that please the Father’s heart” (Proverbs 14:12, Ephesians 6:6, Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Matthew 6:2, 25:23, Colossians 3:23)
Misunderstandings create a lot of pain and walls. They cause us to assume our spouse has evil motives. Then we react to lies about our spouse rather than what they really think and their true motives. That is a dysfunctional, toxic way to relate.
It has just been my experience in so many mediations that couples deeply, clearly understanding one other really melts hearts.
I see this all over early Christianity. They called it the Principle of Charity—the idea that interpreting your spouse’s viewpoint in a charitable way (assuming the best rather than the worst) can really lead to more fruitful discussions and problem-solving.
I just hate it when Christian couples attack each other trying to “win”. It breaks my heart. No one wins when we use that approach but the enemy.
I want to see us have discussions that are so filled with God’s Spirit, love, and honor for one another that Jesus wins, our spouse wins, the kingdom of God wins, our children win, and we win!