Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone's got one. Mine's an innie.
We Argue Because We Care
Remember when you were single and you wanted someone to care about? Someone whose opinion really mattered to you. Whose approval you craved? Well, continual arguments are proof that you got what you wanted. If you didn't care about your sweetie's approval, you wouldn't bother to try to argue with him or try to change her mind.
We can't even be happy when we're happy. Not fair, is it?
Even Good People Fight
Arguments are caused by competing needs and differing tastes. They are a logical by-product of a unique perspective and a healthy set of boundaries, what keeps you you and me me.
Pretend we're a couple, you and me. Say I need you on my arm for my friend's wedding on Saturday at noon. And you need to work hard all weekend to finish a presentation due Monday morning. Our needs conflict because you can only be in one place at a time. If I am to win, you must lose. This is also known as a zero-sum mentality.
The fight ensues when I become convinced that you don't understand how important my need is. I assume the reason you are not falling all over yourself to agree with me is that you think your need is more important than mine. And it is NOT! Grrrr.
So boom there we are. I'm mad, you're mad, and we are shouting and maybe even slandering each other's motives. Even though I adore the pants off you, I hear myself calling you a selfish workaholic who can't even do one little thing for me that ANYONE else would do. And then I feel sorry for myself and cry.
Deep down inside, I'm crying for another reason. Inside, my heart is saying, "Stop! Please, I love you and I don't want to hate you and I never wanted this for us. Why can't we just stop and be happy?"
Somewhere inside you, your heart feels the same way.
So How Do We Stop Fighting?
The only way to stop fighting is for someone to go first. It's hard to do because it feels like giving in. If I stop lobbying for my cause, I've given up and you get your way. I feel like a doormat. "Here just stomp all over me, I don't care."
So let's say that you are the bigger person. You see that the discussion is no longer productive and is quickly spiraling into an emotional character assassination. What can you actually do to change things?
You're in luck. Below, I've put together the best tricks I know to stop the fighting and feel good again.
9 Things to Say to Stop an Argument Before It Begins
We are so accustomed to being tuned out and talked over, that a simple acknowledgment of regard can be shocking. In a fight I just assume that while you're quiet, you're busy prepping your counter-arguments like a lawyer. After all, that's what I do while you blab on and on about your silly whatever.
But what if you could use my assumptions and bad communication habits to your advantage? I won't know what to do if you actually display curiosity about where I am coming from. And if you make it plain that you consider my feelings and needs legitimate, it totally knocks the wind out of my sails.
The following phrases are effective because they communicate that an argument won't stop you from caring about me and our relationship:
- Good point. or You have a point. (Start with this phrase. You needn't agree with my entire premise to concede that I made one valid point.)
- That makes sense.
- Tell me more.
- I can understand why you would want that.
- You are right.
- We're smart people. We can figure this out.
- That really means a lot to you, doesn't it?
- I just have to say, no matter what happens, you are the most important thing to me.
- I love you.
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Create a Diversion
When I was a toddler and threw a fit, my mom used to get out her keychain and wave it around and say, "Oooh lookit the shiny! Lookit the pretty!" Whether it was the shiny or her odd behavior that shut me up, I don't know. But it worked pretty well. Til I turned 14 and cottoned on to her tricks.
If you throw out a strange comment, apropos of absolutely nothing, the overgrown toddler in your life will stop and stare at you too. Just make sure it is clear that you are the buffoon and are making fun of yourself, not being snide.
Which would you rather? To be weird or yelled at? For most of us, being weird is not that much of a stretch. The following phrases can be used to de-escalate, de-seriousness, and otherwise ruin a good argument.
Not particularly funny, but the best I've got at the moment:
- Hang on a second. I have this mole I want to show you.
- Did I just say that out loud?
- This is so great! If we didn't love each other we wouldn't even care about this!
- Am I like this all the time? How do you put up with me?
- If I don't get my way, this really is the end of the world. Seriously. We're all gonna diiie. Then start singing that REM song. It's the end of the world as we know it...
- Oh yeah? Well, I am PRINCESS/PRINCE PERKY PERFECT PANTS!!! And what I say goes!
- On - nay Iquitor - say, wahh - may? Anything in pig latin.
- Sorry, I got distracted. You just look so hot right now. (This one works really really well. I don't know why.)
Take a Bathroom Break
What? You read right. No one will ever stop you from visiting the restroom. (The consequences could be so grossss!) You don't have to explain why or say when you'll be back. That's all implied. Go in there and breathe and calm down. Give yourself a chance to reflect.
Run warm water over your hands. Make crude gestures at the mirror if you want. But don't allow yourself to just stand there and watch yourself cry while making sad orphan faces--that only worsens things and you could be in there all day.
This is my number one tactic. (Pun intended haw haw haw.) Although there may be rumors by now of my having some sort of serious urinary disorder, taking a quick timeout like this has probably saved several relationships and even my job. Maybe I'll write a article about it.
Be honest. Look behind your anger. Often there is a softer, more vulnerable issue at stake. We use anger and attack to defend against feeling exposed. After all, if I'm your enemy, why show me a weakness I could use against you?
What is often overlooked
is the disarming nature of honest vulnerability. To disarm is to lay
down your weapons. Unless you are dealing with a psycho, harmlessness is actually your safest position. While I might shoot at a pitbull if I felt threatened enough, could I ever harm a cute little frolicky little adorable baby lamb--or a tiny bun bun bunny? That's right. Beee the bunny.
Soften. Relax your face, be seated and lean back, turn down the volume. Go limp and think back to when you first fell in love. What did you want for us? What do you still hope for? Your new body language will get my attention immediately.
Get Real About Your Feelings
What do you really want? What are you afraid will happen if you don't get what you need? Say that. Out loud. It doesn't matter if it sounds stupid. We all have feelings that seem like they should be trivial, but they aren't. If you feel dumb about what you have to say, admit that too!
Here are phrases I've actually said out loud because they were true:
- I just feel so sad.
- I'm scared. I don't want to admit it but I'm really afraid of...
- This sounds stupid, but what is really bothering me is...
- I don't want to fight.
- I love you. (I know I used this one already, but I can never say it enough.)
- I'm confused.
- That hurt.
- I don't know what to say.
- I might be overreacting because ... happened to me when I was little.
Remember Which Team You're On
Finally, conflict is a state of mind. Imagine a conference table. You are on one side and I am on the other haggling and fussing. Now imagine yourself getting up, coming over to my side of the table, and quietly sitting next to me. We are a team again.
We can be a team even when we disagree because. . . wait for it. . . we can both be right at the same time!* Zero Sum thinking is so outdated and is positively medieval! Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame) has been talking about win-win solutions for years.
Our problems are the enemy, not each other. If we are committed to each other--the rule is: If I Have a Problem, We Have a Problem. No one gets their needs or problems dismissed. This mentality allows us to work things out. We can compromise or trade (I'll do ________ for you today if you do ________ for me tomorrow) to ensure our needs are met and everyone can be happy again.
* If only one person could be right at a time, we'd all be in trouble. There are millions of people in the world. What if you died before you even got your turn? Even worse, what if you got your turn and you wasted it playing Fantasy Football!?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.