This was first published on KSL.com
This one is a tough one for me. We have 6 kids (plus several spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends) in our family that we adore. They all live nearby and we love having them come visit for family holidays. I'm in a pickle here, though, and need your advice. I'm an avid news and science follower and have followed the COVID pandemic closely. Unfortunately, my sister even passed from COVID last month so I am really concerned about it. The problem is that my husband says he has had enough of this pandemic and the isolation and has invited all the family to come for Thanksgiving. We've had lengthy conversations about it and he knows I think that we should visit remotely as instructed by our leaders. What do I do given that we disagree so strongly about this? I know I am sensitive because of my sister's passing, but I worry about the health and safety of ALL our loved ones. Shouldn't we be setting a good example for our family and following guidelines?
The short answer is yes, of course, you should absolutely follow the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when you celebrate Thanksgiving, which include hosting a remote gathering or wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, among other things. Having said that, I think your real question is: "How do I convince my spouse to follow the COVID-19 guidelines, and how do I handle the disagreement?"
The answer to that question is simple because it's the same answer no matter what the disagreement is about. You need to have a mutually validating conversation with them, where you both feel heard, understood and valued, and you need to come up with a compromise that honors both your feelings.
I believe knowing how to have mutually validating conversations is one of the most important relationship skills we need to have because it means you can talk about anything and not digress into a fight.
Here are some steps for how to do that:
1. Let go of your need to be right
If your goal is to convince him he is wrong and win the argument, he is likely just going to get defensive. A mutually validating conversation is not about being right and getting your way; it's about making both parties feel heard and understood, actually understanding the other person and their feelings, and honoring and respecting their right to feel the way they do. This requires you to be generous and caring as you go into this.
2. Make sure you see the other person as the same as you
This means you don't see yourself as smarter, wiser, more educated, more morally right, or above the other person in any way. You remind yourself that you have faults, too, and you both have the same intrinsic value all the time — that cannot change. This prevents you from talking down to the other person, which will always offend them. It also should prevent you from feeling intimidated or less than another person.
3. Set your agenda and feelings aside upfront
This means you are going to start this conversation with only one goal in mind: to ask questions, listen, understand and make sure the other person feels fully heard, honored and respected for their right to think the way they do. This conversation must start all about them, and not at all about you and your views. I sometimes need to set my feelings, opinions and agenda in another room and shut the door before going into a conversation like this. You must dedicate yourself upfront to just caring about how the other person feels.
4. Ask the other person questions about their thoughts and feelings
Ask your husband if he would be willing to talk to you about Thanksgiving and help you understand how he feels about it. During this step, you will ask great questions that show your desire to understand and give the him space to share all the details about his views. You want to spend as much time here as possible because this is the step that makes the other person feel safe with you, heard and valued. Make sure you don't agree or disagree with anything your husband says. This is not about you yet. This part is just about listening and caring about how he feels.
5. Ask permission to share your thoughts
After you have spent a lot of time listening, and you can tell your husband feels heard and understood, you may ask him if he would be willing to let you share how you feel about it. You might want to ask a couple of permission questions so you can create the safe space you need. This might sound like:
6. Speak your truth without attacking the other person
You will do this by following two rules:
Avoid bringing up any behavior from the past by saying things like, "I feel like you never care what I think, remember last Christmas?" Instead say, "Would you be willing to care about what I think about this, this year?"
Make sure you don't insist on making the other person be wrong; you just have different perspectives, and both deserve to be honored.
7. Find ways to compromise
Obviously, though, only one plan for Thanksgiving can happen. Some kind of compromise must be reached. You might ask if there is anything you could do to make your husband feel like the family is there with you while gathering for the meal remotely.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.