My husband and I are musicians. Right now we’re preparing for a concert and every day we record our rehearsals. Yesterday we had a disagreement; the same one we’ve had a hundred times before. Except this time it was recorded. We could listen back.
When you’re having an argument and you’re deep inside your story and your position, it’s extremely hard to be objective about what you’ve said, and what the other person has said. Our minds distort reality to fit our preconceptions at the best of times, and when we’re angry it’s even worse. How often do arguments get to the point where you’re arguing about what the other person said during the argument?!
Comedian Dave Chapelle once did a funny skit about a couple who were always accompanied by a court stenographer who took down every word they said, even in bed, so they could always ask for the transcript to be read and find out exactly what insult had been lobbed their way.
And yesterday I found out how useful this is. While we were rehearsing, Arthur wanted me to take another approach with my rhythm guitar on a particular song (these are his compositions), and—as usual—he said, “try this,” I played one note, and he said, “no, no, not like that.” He had no idea that he was being impatient, and when I tried to tell him to give me a minute, he replied that I was just being stubborn and unyielding—as usual. But when we listened back it was obvious to Arthur that he had been impatient. And the next day when we were in a similar situation he was much more patient, explaining what he wanted and giving me a chance to figure out how to do it.
Everyone is now carrying audio recorders around with them in their smartphones. I suggest you try this: next time you and your partner get into that same old discussion that never gets solved (or you and your mother, or whoever you have those regular disputes with), whip out your phone and record it. Then wait until later, when tensions have calmed down, and listen to it together. Don’t focus on your individual cases and start the argument back up again; instead focus on how you’re approaching the conversation: Are you being dictatorial—it’s my way or else? Are you bringing in history that has nothing to do with the current situation? Are you whining, yelling, or crying? Are you misinterpreting and/or misrepresenting what the other person is saying? Listen to it as if you’re watching a TV show of another couple sharing their relationship.
A cautionary note from Arthur: recording can distort people’s behavior. If you know you’re recording and you act all sugary-sweet in order to make the other person look bad in comparison, that’s not what I’m suggesting. In addition, some people will get even angrier at the sight of a recorder, so it can be an incendiary tactic.