A guest post from one of my dear prayer partners:

Maybe try this with your man the next time you have an argument. 

It starts with understanding two very different approaches:

  • A “strawman” is a misrepresentation of someone’s position or argument that is easy to defeat. With this approach, your goal is to create a win/lose situation where you win and the other person loses.
  • A “steelman” is an actual improvement of someone’s position or argument that is far harder to defeat than their originally stated position or argument.  The goal of this approach is to completely understand the other person’s argument to create a win/win.

My husband and I use the steelman concept at home to get each other’s positions as accurately and strongly as possible until the other agrees that it is what they are trying to say. This validates the other person’s position and we both know we deeply understand one another. 

From there we can have a full discussion about what to do. 

(This works with other relationships, as well.)

Why the Steelman Approach Blesses Your Relationship

Unlike in court, we have to help our guy (and this goes both directions) make his arguments if we want to truly, deeply solve things.  

Everyone wants to have his/her thoughts taken seriously.

The best way to do this is to show that you deeply understand the thrust of your man’s argument by improving on the way the core idea is expressed.  Yes. Even if you don’t agree.  

Otherwise you’re merely attacking a weak manifestation of the idea, and not the genuine idea itself. In a strong relationship, we have to help each other make the best possible cases. 

Try it, it is incredibly validating and softening to our men.  

Why the Strawman Approach Hurts Your Relationship

In an effort to “win” we create a strawman to engage with. The problem is, it’s only a shallow caricature of our guy’s argument. (Men do this to their women, too, sometimes, of course.)  

That undermines him by attacking the weakest part of his argument.  The prideful desire to win at all costs ahead causes untold amounts of relationship problems. I see this so often in the marriage classes I teach.  

But if you’re interested in deeply connecting in Christ, more than “winning,” and you really want to reach that person’s heart, there’s a far better way.

I turn off my “lawyer mode”

It is such a mind-shift for me because in court I attack the weakest part of the opponent’s arguments because I am trying to win. 

In a godly relationship, though, we can’t win unless we both win together.

I help my husband make his arguments and I even strengthen them where I can. He does the same for me. It is so beautiful and invites trust to blossom in the relationship.   

**Note – If there are very severe issues in your relationship, please seek appropriate, experienced help. 

3 Steelman Tips

Here are a few of my favorite tips to help you build a steelman for your boyfriend/fiance’s argument in a discussion:

  1. Take his side for a bit. Attempt to re-express your his position so clearly that he says: “Wow, thank you so much, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” That’s deep understanding and validation!!! 
  2. Institute this rule: Each of you can share your views only after you have first restated the ideas and feelings of the other accurately and to the other person’s satisfaction. 
  3. Seek to honor God first. Have this mentality: “I just want to live my life to glorify God. I just want to do the things that please the Father’s heart” (Proverbs 14:12, Ephesians 6:6, Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Matthew 6:2, 25:23, Colossians 3:23)

Misunderstandings create a lot of pain and walls. They cause us to assume our guy has evil motives. Then we react to lies rather than what they really think and their true motives. That is a dysfunctional, toxic way to relate.

It has just been my experience in so many mediations that couples deeply, clearly understanding one other really melts hearts.  

I see this all over early Christianity.  They called it the Principle of Charity—the idea that interpreting your loved one’s viewpoint in a charitable way (assuming the best rather than the worst) can really lead to more fruitful discussions and problem-solving.

I just hate it when Christian couples attack each other trying to “win”.  It breaks my heart. No one wins when we use that approach but the enemy.

I want to see us have discussions that are so filled with God’s Spirit, love, and honor for one another that Jesus wins, our guys win, our relationships win, the kingdom of God wins, and we win!  

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