Ending The Argument

Most of us would like to live together in harmony. However, when two or more people live in the same household there’s bound to be differences. Some should be ignored but others must be confronted head-on. However the process of trying to resolve important issues with a loved one can be dangerously booby-trapped.

Tyler and Tracey tried to evade the discomfort of arguments by avoiding the discussion of red flag issues. They agreed not to talk about religion, politics, and in-laws. One night when they were having an argument about sex, they decided to add sex to the list of forbidden topics. After three years of marriage, their list that had grown to include even minor topics, and they avoided each other.

Armed with their list of forbidden topics, Tyler and Tracey went to see a marital therapist. They were hoping the therapist would tell them who was right and who was wrong, and that would settle the matter.

"When the issue is insignificant," the therapist said, "like whether to drink coffee or tea, or it’s something impossible to change, like the size of one’s feet, it’s best to overlook differences. It’s great that you are able to do that. However when you disagree on an important issue, that’s another story." The therapist agreed to work with Tracey and Tyler on developing some strategies for confronting their important differences.

Working things out sometimes gets us stuck in a quagmire of misunderstanding and defensiveness. When emotions take over reason, when our discussion shows signs of deteriorating into a debate of the minor points, an attack on character or a criticism of how the other person thinks and feels further discussion of the issue is futile.

Some couples get stuck in a game I call instant replay. Instead of discussing the issue at hand they debate how they got off track. Herman and Henrietta spent a lot of precious time attacking and defending who said what when during the heat of the argument. It goes like this, "I said this and then you said that and then I said this."

Jim and Jena got themselves in trouble when their argument about what color to paint their house deteriorated into attacks on each other’s character and taste. The argument ended abruptly when the phone rang. After Jena talked with her sister for an hour, neither Jim nor Jena could remember what they were bickering about, or why it was so important. They quickly resolved their house color dilemma with a compromise. Jena was a fast learner.

The next time she and Jim were mixing things up, Jena held her hands up palms toward Jim and asked, "What would you rather be doing right now?"

Jim’s eyes got wide and his mouth hung open. "Well, I guess there are a lot of other things we could be doing," he said. They decided they didn’t want to miss the new sit-com on television, the debate could wait until they’d both calmed down.

There are times when the discussion of important issues reaches an impossible impasse. Tyrone and Tessa found a way out of this dilemma. They agreed to flip a coin and abide by the outcome.

Pete and Patti simply decided to take turns winning. Of course, that strategy sometimes got them into a fight over who won the last round.

For any of these strategies to actually work, it has to be more important to be together and have a good relationship than it is to be right and win the argument.

—M. LaCourt

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