Arguments! Some people engage in more arguments than others.
Arguments can hardly be avoided forever. Some would say arguments are a good thing now and then to help “clear the air.” Arguments are however, a relatively ineffective way of communicating. Arguments take a toll on trust and good will (severe arguments take a severe toll) and are a costly way to be heard, understood, or elicit change.
An argument is an attempt to force
the other person to feel “the bad.”
When people argue, they are trying to get another person to understand they are feeling anxious, scared, controlled, blamed, ashamed, unappreciated, attacked, afraid, used, devalued, overly responsible, burdened, or any of a host of other uncomfortable or bad feeling states. In an argument, the bad feeling is displaced on the other rather than owned. Back and forth and back and forth the bad feeling goes until it lands on the other. Both lose. We start comparing who is the greater victim (holder of the bad) and resentment flourishes in such fertile hostility. No one ends up feeling really heard or understood or valued after an intense argument.
There are several communication skills that can help us avoid destructive arguing. While they can be learned, it is often a steep, uphill effort to do so, especially if one has been raised in an environment where arguing was the rule rather than the exception. Here are a few skills required:
- Self-monitoring. Be aware of your own feeling states before things become embittered.
- Learn to call time out and come back to a discussion when you are more able to listen than tell. Self-monitoring and control of your own arousal state and defensiveness is CRUCIAL.
- Express your own feelings in an adult-to-adult fashion. Parental scolding or childish rebellion is not helpful.
- Learn to decide when to share your thoughts and feelings. Is your goal to punish or problem-solve? If you are in punishing mode, you aren’t likely ready to make yourself heard in the way your partner is best able to hear. Timing is everything. Don’t discuss an important topic when you are tired, hungry, busy, or too upset.
- Understand your style of control when anxious or aroused. Do you pursue or distance?
- Learn to make “I” statements instead of speaking for the other by making “you” interpretations or asking “why” questions.
- Be aware of your own common themes and hot button issues. What past similar painful experiences are you protesting when you argue? Can you tell the difference between echoes of your past and triggers of the present?
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney