I grew up in a family that didn’t argue. Sure, my siblings and I would get into the odd squabble, and my brothers liked to pummel each other from time to time. But, as we grew older, we learned to keep our offences to ourselves. I honestly don’t remember my parents ever fighting, at least not in front of us.

This made for a somewhat peaceful environment (well, as peaceful it can be with eig
ht siblings) but it also made me ill-prepared for the gentleman I was gearing up to marry in my early twenties.

Paul grew up in a family that laid everything out on the table at all times, usually instantly, and almost always with a good dose of demonstrative oomph. Thus, the recipe for probable disaster ensued.

One of the best pieces of advice we received from our mentors at the time, who were attempting to handle our “pre-marital counselling,” was what I shall call the “10-4 Rule.” It has helped us with a thousand arguments, and is even aiding our daughters with theirs.


When the familiar feeling of tension arises and it becomes obvious one of us has become upset, the first thing we try to do is to allow said person to share what they are feeling, uninterrupted. They get ten minutes to explain what happened and how it made them feel. It is extremely important to use language to describe how you feel and not talk about facts. This is normally harder for the guys, because I find men are more concerned about the facts of the case, rather than how they are feeling about whatever happened. It’s something worth working on for both of you, trust me.


Husband gets upset because he feels wife has been putting him down in front of friends in order to get a laugh. He confronts the issue by saying, “You always make up crap about me and it really ticks me off.”

Wife will probably respond with something defensive like, “What are you talking about?”

Husband gets quiet and shuts down, or tries to get her to understand by restating what he already has, adding something more emphatic like, “You might think it’s funny but I would never do that to you!”

Wife will most likely become more defensive and start mentally listing all the crappy things husband has done that she would never do to him.

Conversation over.

Using the 10-4 Rule, we would try something like this:

Husband: Quite and Distant

Wife: “You seem upset. Can you explain what happened and how it made you feel? I’m listening.”

Husband: “I feel like you make jokes at my expense and I don’t like it.”

Wife: (Rejecting Defence Mechanism) “I didn’t mean to do that, can you tell me how you are feeling?”

Husband: (After pausing to make sure this is for real and not a trap.) “It makes me feel embarrassed. And I feel confused because I would always want to protect you in public and make sure you feel honoured. I feel like a wimp for even bringing this up; it actually makes me feel more embarrassed. But I feel like you don’t protect me when we are out with friends.”


Next Step, the person who unintentionally caused the offence repeats what the other person just said. This is a very critical part of this process. There is no correcting or explaining. You simply explain back to the person how they are feeling in your own words to show that you have understood.


Wife: “Is that all? Are you feeling anything else?”

Husband: “No, that’s about it.”

Wife: “So when we were out and I exaggerated that story about how you never listen to anything I say, it made you feel like I was just trying to get a laugh, and wasn’t thinking about how stupid it would make you feel?”

Husband: “Yes.”

Wife: “And it made you feel like I was misrepresenting you, and implying that you don’t ever listen, and dishonouring all the thoughtful things that you do do?”

Husband: “Yes.”

Wife: “And you feel stupid even asking, but you really want to feel like, just like you try to protect my heart when we’re in public, you would want me to do the same for you?”

Husband: “Yes, that’s about it.”

Wife: “Do you feel like I understand?” <<Physical touch can be helpful here.

Husband: “Yes.”

Wife: “I’m really sorry I made you feel that way. I would never want to embarrass you or make you feel like that. I’m going to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, okay?”

Husband: “Okay.”


If there is another side to the story, which there sometimes is not, then the person who caused the offence then gets ten minutes to explain their side of the story. It goes the same way. You must talk about how you are feeling, not just the facts.

In this case, there really might not be another side, except that maybe the Wife wants to explain that she thought this was just a funny story and that he was going along with it, thereby giving no clue that he was secretly fuming. Or maybe he called her out on it in front of everyone, which in turn made her also feel embarrassed. If there are hurt feelings on both sides, then both people need to have their ten minutes to share, uninterrupted.


When the second person is done sharing their feelings, the first person then does the same thing they did for them: Repeat what they have just said to show they understand.

It’s important to note that an apology is not the main purpose of this exercise, even though often one will be warranted. Often, in any relationship, the primary need is to be understood. I have found that, just having that understanding from your spouse or friend does a world of good in making you feel known and safe.

I’ve coached my girls through this process many times, and it is AMAZING to me how well it works. When each person feels like the other has heard their heart and understands what they feel, the tension dies dramatically.

As a wise person once said, “We get wounded in relationships, but we also get healed through relationships.” Finding out that we have the power to heal one another is one of the most valuable revelations I believe we can have in life!

I’d love to hear your stories, or if you have tried something similar to the 10-4 Rule! Comment below and keep the conversation going!



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