Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Sock Puppet Argument

Several years ago, a couple came in, and the wife brought with her a 300 page notebook full of all of her husband's wrong doings. She didn't really need the notebook, she had all of his transgressions so committed to memory all I had to do was mention a problem, like "dishes" and she could find all the pages describing each of the instances involving dishes and what he had done 'wrong'.

Okay, so it's an extreme example, but essentially every person who comes in to see us has a log of their spouse's transgressions. They may not write them down on paper, they just know them by heart, but that may actually be worse!

Once you've logged enough of your partner's transgressions, you start to believe you not only know what your partner has done wrong, you also feel certain you know what they are going to do wrong! When it gets to that point, you don't really even need your partner there to have a fight.

Elise and I call this the "Sock Puppet" argument. Once she wanted me to do something which she thought I wouldn't want to do, so she said, "I want you to [whatever it was]" and then, before I had a chance to respond, she said, "I know what you're going to say, you're going to say, '[Her imagined counter argument of mine.]'" and then she said, "But, [and then she countered 'my' counter argument.]" And before I could speak, she countered her counter of her counter. I finally said, "Call me when this argument is over, and let me know how I did."

The image of putting a sock on your hand, and turning it back on yourself and arguing with it is so ridiculous; it often stops these kinds of arguments in their tracks.

The solution to a Sock Puppet argument is to let go of the idea that you know what the other person is thinking, and actually risk asking them for what you want. One of the first lessons they taught us as mediators was to be excitedly curious about the other person. This was also called the "dumb mediator" because even though you may think you know what the other person is thinking (it's obvious because you know what you would be thinking in that situation) you let go of what you 'know' and get curious about them.

It's amazing how often they surprise you.

Q4U: Watch for Sock Puppet arguments this week, and tell us about the ones you see - or better still, the times you caught yourself being the ventriloquist!


  1. I'm so glad that Max is sharing his wisdom and talent in this Blog!
    With Max, I have learned more about relationship interaction in a few sessions than I have in years of therapy!
    Only wish I knew you sooner!
    M.S., Wynmoor, PA

  2. Thanks so much, M.S.!

    I believe deeply in the benefit of therapy, for people who don't know their own insides well enough to be able to share themselves as deeply as intimate relationships require.

    But the VAST majority of people do know what they want, they just don't know how to communicate it across the difference they have with their partners. And difference is the whole reason we invite another person into our lives - so we get the benefit of whole spectrum of human needs. Mediation and NVC are MUCH better skills for the problems which most couples have, than therapy is.

    Instead of YEARS of therapy, Marriage Mediation takes an average of six weeks. In that time, I can mediate their presenting conflicts AND teach them conflict resolution skills so they can realize the potential intimacy and healing waiting for them in their marriage.