It was Friday night and Dave and Amy were planning to go out to dinner with one year old Ava. Amy was commuting home from the city and called to say that traffic was heavy; it was going to be an hour and a half commute. Dave got Ava ready before Amy got home so they could leave for dinner right away.
When Amy got home, she started changing Ava’s clothes and diaper. Dave got annoyed, since he had already changed her. Since Ava already had her shoes on, Dave thought this would indicate to Amy that Ava was already changed.
Dave talked about his irritation and then gave an example to clarify his point. “It’s like when I put her in her car seat and you need to check whether she’s buckled in correctly. Now they were squabbling about the car seat and Dave decided to give another example. “You ask me if the doors are locked and then you go check to see if I did.”
Dave and Amy started talking about getting Ava dressed and their conversation escalated as they moved onto car seats and locked doors. Dave used examples to clarify his points, but each example represented another unresolved issue, distracting them from resolving the initial incident.
I had them go back and discuss each incident separately. Partners use examples to clarify or make their points, but typically the examples detract from the issue at hand. It’s best to talk about each incident directly—without using examples. Once the issue is resolved, the couple can move onto related incidents.