Source: Tambako The Jaguar on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0
Men and women often have different styles when it comes to arguing. This post is especially for women, because I’m going to show you how men “win” the argument (to their personal satisfaction), and how to turn the tables for the benefit of the relationship. Of course women may do this, too.
The trick is defining the battlefield so that winning is guaranteed. For example, “Of course saving money is the most important thing, so why did you waste 50 cents on this purchase?” The fact that you bought the more expensive product because it tastes better, or even because you were in a hurry to pick up the kids at soccer is now irrelevant because the argument was set up to be about saving money and you didn’t. As soon as you engage in the discussion, you have lost, because he’ll hold fast to the premise that saving money is the main goal in life. If you argue back, he’ll go right into that speech about how your credit card debt is too high… blah blah blah.
Or it might be, “you’re so soft on the children. Why don’t you show some backbone and give out real consequences.” It’s black and white either you do the “right thing” or you don’t, and you didn’t.
Unfortunately, faced with a firm statement, one that puts you back on your heels, most of us, especially women, respond (to their credit), by examining themselves, and being ready to own any shortcoming or failure. The battle is already lost. Your honesty is rewarded with a self-satisfied smirk: “That’s right you always have been too weak.”
What I’m hoping is that you will find the presence of mind to realize what is happening. It’s not easy, because most of us respond to criticism by going into instinctive mode. But when you do recover your balance, you may remember this: The response that can turn it around is to focus not on the issue, but on the premise.
You answer might be something like, “Well I don’t really accept that saving money is everything…” Then you wait. Now you have shifted the battlefield towards the real issue. In the second example, it might be, “I’m not sure I’m on the same wavelength about what the kids need.” Feeling a loss of footing, your partner might resort to walking away in a huff or some other kind of power play, but you don’t have to engage. “Ok, I’ll see you later.” Or the discussion might actually continue on the new battlefield.
Now the conversation is about something totally different. It is about your differing values. He may have taken it for granted that saving money is the most important thing, and he may have put a great deal of thought into the best way to do that. On the other hand, it may not have occurred to him that other considerations might be more important to you. All of us have personal values, and they are not usually identical. Try to get him to talk about his values and how he came to adopt them. Don’t argue back, just listen. Ask follow-up questions and show real curiosity. When you really get where your partner is coming from, then it is time to ask if he (she) would like to hear your point of view. You will both have a better understanding of the other and the argument will mostly evaporate.
One more thing about values. They are part of our inner self-management system (conscience). Talking about values can be a hot topic because we hold tightly to them, and because if we don’t act according to them, that system sends out feelings of shame. If you would like to know more, take a look at my other blog, www.howtherapyworks.com.
Jeffery Smith MD, Scarsdale, NY
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