Michael Hyatt Gets Transparent About Marriage Dispute

A Twitter friend recently shared a blog post with me that he thought I would enjoy. He was right. Michael Hyatt is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishing, a social media guru and leadership evangelist. He revealed on his blog that he had a fight with his wife, Gail, admitted that he was in the wrong, and then shared what he learned from the disagreement.

Here are his 5 bites of insight.

  1. Clarify our expectations up front. Most conflicts are born out of a misalignment of expectations. In this particular argument, I had a set of unexpressed expectations that Gail failed to meet. If we had discussed them before the day began, we would have likely avoided the problem altogether. But, she didn’t know, because I hadn’t bothered to articulate them.
  2. Assume the best about each other. This is especially difficult in the heat of the moment. It is easy to impute motives. But, realistically, your spouse does not get up in the morning intending to make your life miserable. You have to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he or she is well-intentioned.
  3. Affirm the priority of the relationship. The most important asset you have as a couple is the health of your relationship. You don’t want to win the battle but lose the war. Near the end of our argument, I finally came to my senses. I said, “Honestly, I don’t know who is right or who is wrong. What I know for sure is that I love you and that trumps everything.” She quickly agreed.
  4. De-personalize the problem. When you square off against one another and make it personal, it gets ugly. If you are not careful, you end up cornering your spouse and leaving them no other option than to react or retaliate. Instead, you have to move to their side of the table, and work on the problem together.
  5. Listen more than you talk. When you get angry, it is easy to rant—to give expression to your emotion. This is almost never a good idea. Instead, if you want to be understood, you must seek to understand. (Thank you, Dr. Covey.) This means trying to see the other person’s point-of-view. Ask a question, and then ask a follow-up question.

I agree with him, almost 100%. I can say that a lot of what he is encouraging has been touted by marriage enthusiasts for years and are key lessons in pre-marital counseling and marriage conferences. Casey and I have found them to be foundational principles that help us function well in our marriage on a daily basis.

So why almost 100%? In tip#2 it almost seems like acknowledging your on each others’ team and that your love for each other supersedes any disagreement will be an adequate resolution to any argument. Although this is an important perspective to have, especially when disagreeing, if the core issue isn’t resolved, it will rear it’s ugly head again, despite the love-trump card.

In #5 he states that giving expression to your emotions is almost never a good idea. I don’t agree with this statement at all. Feelings and emotions are important. They need to be acknowledged and expressed. Fear of emotional expression has caused great pain in our marriage and left many issues unresolved and allowed resentment to build. I think the key here is really paying attention to the root emotion and expressing it. We have found that when we are honest about what we are feeling – fear, sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt, hurt – it makes it easier to draw closer to one another and feel empathy.

What are your thoughts on his 5 tips? Would you add any to the list?

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About Shana Bresnahan

www.MyMarriageInMotion.com Interactive media evangelist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center that truly loves life, loves God and loves others. Wife to Casey. Owner of Minny. Aunt to 11. Advocate of transparency. (Opinions my own)
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12 Responses to Michael Hyatt Gets Transparent About Marriage Dispute

  1. Dan says:

    I really appreciated Michael’s honesty in this particular post. I do agree with most of what he said as he outlined his learnings in his 5 points. I also appreciated what Shana had to share, but would comment on the same 2 points, #2 & #5 in this way…
    I actually do not think that many, maybe most of our conflicts in mariage are “resolvable”, primarily because conflict often arises out of our differences rather than our “rightness” or “wrongness”. This is also why I would challenge Shana in relation to Michael’s point, #5, that often times, the goal of resolving conflict is not found in agreement but in the conversation itself that includes honest, respectful sharing our our own thoughts, hurts etc. I often find that once I can share how I feel and my spouse hears it (maybe not understand it) the conflict is done. Conflict is an opportunity to grow together because it’s in conflict that we get to learn a little more about our spouse. Agreement on the “issue” is often times, not the goal at all, nor the greatest value of the disagreement in the first place.

    • Dan – I’m a HUGE fan of transparency, especially in relation to marriage which is the whole reason I started this blog. I was excited to see someone in Michael’s position share an honest snippet of his marriage.

      Thank you for your additional thoughts. I love how you stated that agreement is not the goal. That is a great point! Although I feel that most marital conflicts are resolvable in some way, I understand that many are not and still need some sort of end. In counseling, we learned about disconnection and repair. I think the goal of disagreements is repair, which is basically re-engagement after a disconnection has taken place. Arguing the right and wrong often never gets us anywhere. The tips Michael shared in addition to the expression of feelings is a great way to reengage and to avoid the right/wrong argument or struggle for agreement.

      Your best statement – “Conflict is an opportunity to grow together because it’s in conflict that we get to learn a little more about our spouse.”

      Yes! I truly believe conflict is the gateway to intimacy and have seen an incredible amount of growth in my brief time in marriage.

  2. Tim Buttrey says:

    It seems to me that you are being a little too critical. Michael’s keys are principles not rules or guarantees. I work with couples every day as a marriage counselor and believe these principles to be well stated (especially in such short form.) Since you focused on #2 and #5 I will use them to attempt making my point.
    In #2, I believe this principle is about RESPECT. He is not suggesting co-dependency or enabling. He is simply identifying the foundational attitude of a successful disagreement which will lead to agreement.
    In #5, you seemed to land on the idea that he was saying that all emotions are destructive. The inappropriate expression of emotion, like anger, can be and usually is very destructive. What I hear Michael talking about is what I call “safety” and “emotional honesty.” You are right that the “fear of emotional expression” will cause pain and disconnection. This principle is not about being DISHONEST (about your emotions or feelings) but rather about being SAFE in your HONESTY. Anger and self-centeredness will turn a disagreement into a argument almost every time.

    • Tim – I completely agree with what you are saying and am sure that Michael would too, which is why I said I agree with 99% of what he shared and have found it to be very beneficial in my own marriage. All of us bloggers are limited by the lengths of our posts. I’d like to think that if Michael had written a longer post I might have agreed 100%, but I can’t assume. With my interpretation of what I read, I felt there needed to be further clarification and welcomed the opportunity to share my thoughts and get insight from others like yourself. You’re right that the respect piece is a foundational attitude to have which is why I acknowledged it as an important perspective to maintain in a disagreement. I wanted to reinforce that the ‘we’re on the same team’ card should not be used to prematurely end a much needed dispute. On #5 I interpreted Michael’s post as stating that giving expression to your emotion is almost never a good idea. This is the point that I was disagreeing with. I understand that I might have misinterpreted what he intended to communicate, but wanted to shed some light on how emotional expression was ignored in my marriage for way to long. The addition of safe and honest emotional expression has transformed how my husband and I communicate. Praise God for good marriage counselors. As a counselor, you might also be interested in this post, I welcome your thoughts: https://marriageinmotion.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/some-say-marriage-counseling-doesnt-work/

  3. jenny watson says:

    i get what you are saying about #2. i know my husband had what he thought was my best at heart today.I ASKED HIM TO PLEASE help me stay on a diet. I made cookies. Bagged some for him to take to work, some to send to 2 of our kids who are away in college and kept two out for myself. After he went to work, I realized my 2 cookies were gone. Maybe his motivation was well intentioned. It still ticked me off. 🙂

    • Jenny – I hate to laugh, but I know this story all too well. It’s amazing how my husband’s best intentions can sometimes spark a real burst of hurt and anger in my soul. However, it’s that continual reminder that he loves me and wants nothing, but the best for me that keeps me grounded. I go through the same thing with God a lot too. My mind always floats back to the assumption that He’s out to get me unless I intentionally remind myself the truth. He loves me and wants nothing, but the best for me.

  4. Agree with the five points. And I also agree with your thoughts. My husband and I have been married thirty years and I fully believe in transparency and letting each other know your thoughts and feelings. I do, however, think we need to accept that our spouses love us and act that way. Sometimes we act as if they are our enemies.

    Good post!

    • Sheila – I appreciate your affirmation and further thoughts, especially coming from someone with 30 years experience. Emotional transparency has been difficult for Casey and I, but we’ve come a long way with the help of wise counsel and a great God. Remembering that we are on each others’ team is not always easy, but crucial.

  5. A key to good reflective listening is acknowledging both the feeling content and the information content conveyed in what the speaker says. Both need to be dealt with, separately, and usually the emotional first. That requires feedback techniques as well because it is possible to misread emotions even in one we know well (e.g., mistaking frustration for anger). Good insight here. I don’t think Hyatt would disagree.

    • Michael – Thanks for the additional clarification. It seems you definitely understand my perspective. Casey and I have learned a great deal about the feelings versus content communication in counseling this past year. The ‘seek to understand and not to be understood’ philosophy comes in handy here. I’m not sure what Hyatt’s thoughts on my post are, but also think he would agree. All of us bloggers are limited in our words when we write blogs so further analysis and discussion is always welcomed to further explore and clarify.

  6. jenclen says:

    I read Michael’s original post and I didn’t have any issues with what he wrote.

    I also understand where you’re coming from on the emotional expression side of things. I think that accurately conveying the emotion you’re honestly feeling is an important part of having a fight, mainly from the woman’s perspective. I cannot speak for any other marriage besides my own. But, I know when I am finally able to identify and express to my husband what emotion I’m struggling to deal with, he seems better able to understand where I’m coming from and how to work toward a compromise.

    I also agree with Michael on that same point though, in that I shouldn’t get so concerned with expressing my emotion(s) that I forget to listen to what my husband is saying. Its important to try to be clear when expressing myself, but it won’t do any good if I’m not willing to listen to what my husband is saying also.

    The last thing I wanted to add, was about your statement:
    “Although this is an important perspective to have, especially when disagreeing, if the core issue isn’t resolved, it will rear it’s ugly head again, despite the love-trump card.”

    It appears as though you are implying that if you follow good advice when arguing in your marriage, then you will be able to resolve the issue you’re arguing about the first time you have the argument. I am not disagreeing with your idea that the goal of an argument should be to reach a common ground with your spouse, where you both have given a little back to the other person and met in the middle. I just wanted to add that there will be some things that you cannot figure out how to resolve in that moment, or any moment. I know my marriage, any many other marriages from talking to other women, have revolving door fights. It is not unusual to have the same issue come up over and over again.
    I believe that when Michael was talking about valuing the relationship over winning the argument, this is the sort of argument he was referring to. There will be moments that even after following your chosen set of “Fighting Rules” you still won’t be able to come to a solution, a compromise, or a common ground. In those moments, you need to be able to say, I love my spouse and I’m not willing to spend my energy on this fight instead of on my spouse. So, you both have to agree to disagree and set the issue down – to play the love-trump card. Believe me, I know its not an easy thing to do. And, the very same fight will happen again at a later time most likely in a very similar way to the fight you just had. And that’s okay. As long as you both try to put each other above winning the argument.

    I still can only speak from my 11 years of marriage, but these are things I have learned and found to be true for us.

    • @jenclen – Thanks for your thoughts and sharing the wisdom that you have learned from your 11 years of marriage. I really cannot express how much I value transparency and your willingness to share. I feel it’s not done enough by us married folk. You made some really great points.

      “I shouldn’t get so concerned with expressing my emotion(s) that I forget to listen to what my husband is saying.” Very great point and I think this was the focus of Michael’s statement.

      “There will be moments that even after following your chosen set of “Fighting Rules” you still won’t be able to come to a solution, a compromise, or a common ground. In those moments, you need to be able to say, I love my spouse and I’m not willing to spend my energy on this fight instead of on my spouse.” I definitely agree! Babies and birth control has definitely been a revolving door issues for Casey and me. My point was really that the love-trump card will never solve an argument, but you’re right. It can definitely be a great way to set aside a topic until later.

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