Anatomy of an Argument

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 6 - Give and Ask for Equal Regard

Brent Atkinson describes this step in the following terms.  “Let your partner know that you’re willing to keep an open mind to the potential merit of their viewpoint.  If a decision needs to be made, be willing to be flexible and attempt to find a middle ground.”  He goes on to say that successful relationships operate like a democracy - every person gets one vote and every vote counts equally without having to prove why their reasoning is valid.

Researchers can’t always tell in an argument what success looks like while couples are going at it.  Success sometimes shows up at the end of the argument.  When 2 people are willing to give equal regard to their partner’s point of view, even if they staunchly disagree, that’s where the success lies.

When one person tries to diminish another’s feeling, priorities or opinions, they are standing on shakey ground.  These aren’t facts, they are belief systems.  Stop thinking that your beliefs are the best.  The obviously perfect example is all over the news right now. Trump vs Hillary.  Thank goodness when you go to the polls you won’t have to defend your pick!  So stop putting your partner / spouse / best friend on the defensive, you won’t win.  You are only building up resentment.  Be a superstar and argue like a champ.  THAT’S how you actually win.

If you are looking for couples counseling for you and your spouse, or couples counseling for one, we would love to help. Make an appointment today.

Be sure to check out steps 1-5 of Anatomy of an Argument.

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 5 - Offer Assurance with Flexibility

In Step 2 of Anatomy of an Argument, we look at avoiding a judgmental attitude when fighting with your partner. Step 2 is integral to Step 5 - offering assurance.

When you offer up assurance, the goal is to communicate to your partner that you are doing your best to keep an open mind.  For lots of folks out there, this is insanely difficult because they think their way is just fine, no problem.  The other person feels strongly about their position.  You each have to figure out how to come to terms with the other’s place when neither of you are wrong but you still have a hard time tolerating the other’s perspective.

For example, my husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to privacy vs sharing on certain issues.   I like to get counsel from friends and colleagues, he’s not into me doing this.  He actually has a brilliant mind.  But to my dissatisfaction, his mind instantly jumps to all the potential risks involved.   I don’t mind risk, he craves certainty.  This is an ongoing struggle.  We typically come out of these arguments ok and with a better understanding of the other person and usually with a lot of sympathy going back and forth between us.  But man it’s like clawing my way out of a hole sometimes.  

When all's said and done and I have regained my emotional balance, I actually do see his point of view.  I don’t like it, I don’t think like he does, but I accept that this is the way he is / has always been / most likely won’t ever change.  Neither will I.  Our task is to continually strive to let the other person just be and to learn to cope with our differences in more meaningful ways.  It’s a never ending journey.  Make it count.

The Anatomy of an Argument: Step 4 - Finding the Underlying Needs, Values and Worries

When we are arguing with a spouse, in the heat of the moment it’s so hard to do anything but concentrate on OUR needs and the outcome WE want.  That needs to change ASAP.  In step three of the Anatomy of an Argument series, we learn to identify the underlying needs, values and worries of our mate.

When we assume that our partner’s reasons for wanting something a certain way are stupid or make no sense, we aren’t making room in the argument for the possibility that they actually have valid concerns or worries.  If your partner’s reasons aren’t making any logical sense to you, take a step back and get curious, ask questions.  Ask if there is a fear that they haven’t disclosed.  Ask if there is an influence behind their argument that is steering them in one direction. 

You also need to get clear on your underlying needs, values and worries.   Don’t just put up a fight because you think you are more right or that your way is best.  Remember that most often you two just have a difference in opinion.  If you two can come together to discover each other’s needs, you will be solidly more empathic towards one another.  

A few years ago my husband and I got into an argument because I said something to his mother that he asked me not to.  It was a complete accident, I forgot that he had made that request (which at the time I thought was so stupid!!!)  So by the end of the argument, he was finally able to explain to me that I had actually shamed him.  EWWWW, that felt terrible to me.  The clearer you can be from the get-go, the better.  

When you find yourself in a fight with your partner, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start digging around.  You will be far more productive if you can help each other figure out the underlying needs, values and worries.  I would love to hear if any of you can conjure up some stories from your own life where you didn’t do this.  What happened and what do you wish you had done differently?  Please share!

Anatomy of an Argument: Step 3 - Find the Understandable Part

In our series about the anatomy of an argument, we have discussed focusing on your own reactions and avoiding a judgmental attitude. Here is step three:

Finding the understandable part of your partner’s argument can be difficult, especially when you are entrenched in your position.  ‘Find the understandable part’ does not mean agreeing with their view or accepting it as the right one.  It simply means that each of you have legitimate reason for your beliefs.  

Here’s a little example.  My husband and I were having a discussion over a new car I was about to lease.  I can’t even remember the whole fight, and it was a doozy, but the part that I will never forget it this:  at the end of the argument he revealed that he had felt shamed over a certain action I had taken.  The action was telling his mom something I had promised not to but I thought it was so insignificant that I totally forgot, it was an accident.  The argument ended as soon as I understood what had happened for him.  

Don’t let yourself dig your heels in so deep that you refuse to acknowledge the other’s experience.  This will get you nowhere.  You need to find reasons for their actions and beliefs and they need to do the same for you.  This is a 50/50 deal on both sides.  

Consider these scenarios:

  • A terrible day at work, so she comes home already upset
  • Not all pertinent information was given so details are left out
  • One person thinks a word has one meaning and the other thinks something completely different
  • His mind went to the worst case scenario inventing things you never meant or said
  • The issue is likely to be more important to one of you - sometimes it’s nice to give in if you don’t      care that much
  • Our priorities often differ, so try to keep in mind what is important to one won’t be so important to the other
  • Perhaps one of you had felt belittled or dismissed recently

Next time an argument with your partner arises, do your very best to find the understandable part.  Get out of your own way and really look at their point of view and ask yourself if they are truly wrong.  If you loosen up on these issues, your partner is likely to do the same!  Feel free to respond with situations of your own and what you did to work through them with Step 3 in mind!

Please call and make an appointment for couples counseling or couples counseling for one. We look forward to teaching you how to fight fair!

Anatomy of an Argument: Step 2 - Avoid a Judgemental Attitude

We first looked into fighting with your spouse or partner effectively and focusing on your own reactions. Here is step two of the anatomy of an argument:

Do you try to be open minded and flexible when you are at odds with your partner?  Research has shown that those people who are able to remain flexible are more successful at getting their partners to treat them the way they feel they deserve to be treated.  

Most often when we find ourselves in an argument we have competing agendas.  When we find ourselves in this position, we typically end up making the other person “wrong” in one way or another.  A silly example is driving… which lane do you prefer, what speed, what route?  How many of you have been driving and get criticized one way or the other?  Odds are you aren’t doing anything wrong, it is just different from your mate.

Do your best not to jump to negative conclusions regarding your partner.  Instead, it is best to get curious about why they acted they way they did or said what they did.  Automatically assuming the worst is an invitation for your partner to become instantly defensive and angry.  If you want your mate to meet you in the middle, this is a skill you need to master.

Happy couples will get curious before they get defensive.  Next time you find yourself in grid-lock, ask yourself if the other’s actions / beliefs / opinions are really wrong, or just legitimately different than yours.  This is where constructive compromise happens so both parties feel heard and understood.  

Please call me and I will give you all the knowledge I have on fighting fair.  I help couples navigate arguments daily, let me help you, too.

Anatomy of an Argument: Step 1 - When Arguing, First Focus on *Your Own* Reactions

Couples naturally argue and disagree over almost anything you can imagine.

Fighting with your spouse or significant other can be healthy in that you are standing up for yourself and letting your feelings and intentions be known. You are telling your views and opinions. That’s great!  But are you doing this effectively?  In a series of posts I am writing, we will look at the anatomy of an effective and appropriate fight.  In this first post, we dissect why the first step in arguing effectively is focusing on your own reactions.

When we get into an argument, we are presenting our case for why the other person should come over to our side and our way of thinking…because we are more right, right?  WRONG.  In all likelihood, the other person’s opinions and beliefs are just as valid as yours.  HUH?  Yep, if you take a step back and really think about it, they just have a different viewpoint than yours.  You might not like or agree with that viewpoint, but it isn’t necessarily wrong.  Right?  People show up in the world in all sorts of different ways and you can’t make somebody wrong because they disagree with you.  The only thing you accomplish is that both of you will end up digging your heels in deeper. You each get more and more defensive.  When we get defensive, we slip into our bad habits and then we are off and running.

The first step in a successful disagreement is to focus on your own reactions.  If you can do this, you will automatically help manage the other person.  If you come out with guns blazing, you are instantly pushing all the buttons of the other person.  Their defenses will naturally go up and you have now created the perfect storm.  Want to know a better way?

In order to get somebody to listen to your opinion, you need to make sure you are acting in ways that are optimal for this to happen.  You want to get your way, right?  You must make sure you are coming to the table as calm as you can be with a tone and facial expression that isn’t off-putting. If you don’t, good luck.  Take a few minutes prior to engaging and take a few deep breaths.  Tell yourself that you are going to engage in this process in a calm and collected way.  You have valid points and the other person probably has some, too.  If you head into the conversation with an all-or-nothing-your-way-only attitude, they will sense this immediately and nobody will get their needs met.  Make it easy for your spouse or partner to give you exactly what you want!

Always remember that if you manage yourself, you manage the other.  In the next post we will explore how to avoid a judgmental attitude, the second habit that all successful couples have in their back pocket.


Here’s to fighting effectively!  Please call me and I will give you all the knowledge I have on fighting fair.  I help couples navigate arguments daily, let me help you, too.