Loaded Argument Having a gun in the house is a big decision. When one spouse is opposed to it, you might need to strap on the Kevlar to protect against the tongue-lashing. Dr. K. helps with the conversation. BY DR. KAREN SHERMAN
Having a gun in the house is a huge decision and one that should be discussed calmly.
Dr. K., my husband wants to keep a gun in the house, and it makes me nervous on many levels. Do you have any tips on having a conversation about it before I just say NO?
Though you like to think that you and your partner have the same values and have discussed exactly what these values are before getting married, there will be some situations that may arise which have not been previously discussed.
The situation of having a gun in the house is certainly one that can bring on some very strong emotional feelings with it—on both sides. It’s easy to understand how the very thought of having a gun in your house would be frightening to you. And so, based on your fear, the natural instinct is to flat out say, "No!"
Before I get into some specifics about this topic, let me mention that any issue is best addressed with an open mind. Many people hesitate to listen to an idea brought up by their partner because they think if they do so, it means they are agreeing to whatever is being said. But when you don’t listen, your mate feels shut out and communication is cut off. Though you’ve probably heard how important communication is to a relationship, your emotion gets in the way of practicing skills to keep it flowing.
Also, it’s likely that if you posture in a rigid manner, your partner will do likewise. This is called polarizing one another. To be more concrete: by you saying, "Absolutely not," your partner will dig his or her heels in and become more insistent in his or her opinion. Now, you’re even further, more polarized, than you were initially.
In any situation, you want to hear why your mate is proposing the idea. Get the facts. In this particular case, have there been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood or is someone threatening the family?
Next, each of you should discuss what your feelings are—what’s driving the desired pro or con regarding the situation? Remember not to be judgmental of one another’s feelings. This kind of a talk will allow you to get to understand one another better. This part of the discussion may also give you insight to reconcile the issue in different ways.
Then, if you agree in going along with the request, you need to discuss the practical implementation. For this particular circumstance some issues are: where will the gun be kept? If there are children, will they know about the gun, and what safety measures will be taken? Where will ammunition be kept? And so on.
Decide to follow-up with one another in a short period of time, perhaps a month. At that juncture, check out how each of you are feeling about the situation. Also, see how the actual plan you came up with is working. Again, remember to have this discussion in a non-emotional, non-judgmental way. Make adjustments accordingly.
Couples are going to have conflict. One of the key factors to a good relationship is being able to manage that conflict well. Here again are the steps discussed above:
Address your differences while staying open-minded.
Get the facts.
Each of you expresses your feelings on the matter at hand, while the other listens in a non-judgmental way.
Talk about ways to actually implement a plan.
Check back with one another to see if the plan you’ve come up with needs some fine tuning.
Whether it’s guns or roses, these steps will help you when the topic of discussion is loaded.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.