How To Avoid Arguments In Relationships

Arguments are the second-worst human invention (behind pogs, obviously). Unproductive at best, damaging at worst – they remain a popular activity for the whole family to enjoy suffer through.

I was talking to my cousin one night about arguments, pride, vulnerability, and similar topics.  During our conversation I realized something about human interactions – we rarely have the information we need and this creates many feuds!

I’m going to give an example of a petty argument because when an argument lacks substance, we know it exists for purely psychological and emotional reasons that can be identified. “Heavy” arguments on politics and religion are too convoluted with the “who is right?” question to examine psychologically.

Fluff - A Frisky Cat

This is Fluff the cat. He argues, "I do NOT have fleas. You don't understand me. You NEVER will!" Fluff gets frisky too easily but we still love him.

Josh and Alexandra Have An Argument

Josh: “The Detroit Lions are going to the Super Bowl.”

Alexandra: “I don’t care about football.”

Josh: “You don’t have to be so snappy about it.”

Alexandra: “I wasn’t. What’s wrong with you?”

Josh: “What’s wrong with me?? I was just wanting to talk to you and you were being rude.”

As you can see from that ridiculous example, there was a clear disconnect between the two friends.  The conversation seems simple on the exterior, but much complexity hides in the shadows. This is a great example of how oversimplifying conversations can result in absurd, trivial arguments.

Earlier this year, I had a heated argument with my housemate about whether or not shepherd’s pie typically contains peas or not! I’m not kidding! Just like all arguments, it was a string of misunderstandings. For where there is mutual understanding, there is no argument.

What Went Wrong?

Now I’ll explain what went wrong with Josh and Alexandra.  You’ll see that the conversation starts off with key information that the other person is unaware of. As a result of not knowing this information, the words are twisted and assumptions are made – hence the argument.

The critical missing information is green

The results of not knowing the information are red

Josh: “The Detroit Lions are going to the Super Bowl.”

Missing Info: Josh wanted to connect with Alexandra. He has an indirect style of communication so he started off with small talk. Football was just the first thing that popped into his head because he knows she is from Detroit.

Alexandra: “I don’t care about football.”

Missing Info: Alexandra was fine with talking, but she does not like football. She thought she was making it clear she’d rather talk about something else. She has a direct style of communication.

Josh: “You don’t have to be so snappy about it.”

Result: Josh took what she said as a sign that she was not interested in talking to him. Being offended and hurt by this perceived disinterest, Josh unjustly accused Alexandra of not considering his feelings (in his indirect style).

Alexandra: “I wasn’t. What’s wrong with you?”

Result: She was offended by the accusation.

Josh: “What’s wrong with me?? I was just wanting to talk to you and you were rude.”

Result: Josh, already feeling like the victim, couldn’t believe Alexandra had the nerve to talk to him like she did. I hope they can work this out, but you can see they will have to do a lot of backtracking to find the root of this argument.

Learn From Their Fictional Mistakes

Be very scared aware of your emotions. When a negative emotion flares up in conversation, do not brush it aside. Some people might find this weird, but saying the emotion you’re experiencing out loud can be very effective in conversation. But start stuffing emotions in the closet and they’ll jump out unexpectedly and destroy the world.

Once you’re aware of your emotions, you can learn to trace them back to a source. Josh felt rejected, angry, and hurt by Alexandra’s comment. If he had paused before reacting without thinking (easier said than done!), he could have directed the conversation towards finding the missing information.

He could have asked, “Oh, do you want to talk about something else?” Alexandra would have said “Sure, did you hear about Kelly Clarkson?” to which Josh would respond, “I don’t care about Kelly Clarkson.”  Eventually, they’d find common ground. 😛

The key to all of this? Assume you’re missing information – because you are!

We are always missing information when talking to others. In many cases, it results in argument. Seek to find the missing information before you find yourself deep in argument and searching for some semblance of how it started.

5 steps to avoid argument:

  1. Negative emotion flares up in conversation.
  2. Recognize it and trace it to a comment or gesture.
  3. Assume you’re missing information and ask a relevant question.
  4. The situation is clarified and no argument occurs (unless the clarification was that the person thinks you’re an idiot, in which case, let ’em have it!)
  5. Proceed with discussion of football and/or Kelly Clarkson.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Armand Polanski

Stephen,

Thank you, I really enjoyed your post.

The reason why we miss an information is because we don’t listen very well to one facilitating the conversation. I remember a book I read by Michael Loiser, “The Law of Connection”. It states that person we interact with, reacts to different types of communication systems, not being able to identify it may lead to disagreement between you and the person your talking to.

So, I think we should listen attentive to the person we our chatting with, figure out what she really wants to convey and then react or comment.

Armand Polanski

sguise

Hi Armand,

Wow, that book sounds insightful about communication and relationships. From my experience and knowledge, it is crucial to understand how others prefer to communicate. Some of it you can pick up over time, but other aspects it’s best to just ask them about it.

I agree! A listen-first attitude will bring great results and smoother communication. Thanks for your thoughts (and the RT) Armand.

Martyn Chamberlin

Dude this is really good…but you lost me with this line:

(unless the clarification was that the person thinks you’re an idiot, in which case, let ‘em have it!)

I guess in that case they’d better get divorced? 😀

Justin | Mazzastick

I have to agree that arguments are seldom about the topic at hand. It could be a built up of resentment that had built up over time and is finally being expressed.

I generally do not have relationships with argumentative types just so I can keep my sanity.

sguise

Haha, it was a joke…kind of. I just wanted to mention somewhere that when you seek to understand, sometimes you’ll find out that your first impression was correct (not often though).

Mmm, divorce would be an extreme reaction to a single conversation. 🙂

sguise

The resentment and emotional baggage of relationships can often become cyclical too – which just ruins relationships.

Sanity is pretty important, so I don’t blame you!

Riley Harrison

I find that most arguments (esp with the wife) are a function of the mood I’m in. If I’m in a good mood, I’m bullet proof and exempt from irritation. If I’m in a bad mood every little illogical thing she says is most upsetting. Early in our marriage I asked what time it was and she answered we are having spaghetti. It almost drove me to the looney bin. LOL. I now understand her style of communicating and a have adapted.
Riley

sguise

Bahahaha Riley…

Did she just mishear you? That is hilarious.

Great point about our moods! Moods are a big deal in life. When I’m in a bad mood, I just don’t act the way I want to act.

It’s good that you understand her style now. You’ve had a lot of time to figure it out. 🙂

Archan Mehta

Stephen,

Thank You.

I enjoyed reading your post, as usual. It feels good to read about your ideas.

Social scientists point out that there are gender differences between the male and the female of our species. Especially this is so in the way we communicate with one another. Or don’t.

In general, guys don’t want their gals around when they’re busy hanging out with their buds (pun intended), watching the sports channel, ordering pizza and going rah-rah-rah-rah. This is called male bonding in our culture. Crazy, isn’t it? Oh, don’t forget the beer kegger.

At such times, the female of the species is not welcome inside the room. However, the female of the species does not “get” it. So, a female enters the room and asks the question: “Stephen, honey, so how was your day?” This is the female’s way of trying to establish communication with the male of the species.

This is also the female’s way of trying to get off first base. If this happens, she can then talk about her feelings, but the male of the species does not “get” this school of thought. So, he ignores her or mumbles incoherently. Pretty soon, there is a fight and a break-up: no more dates. I guess that’s what the gals mean when they say,”Men are insensitive and don’t have a clue about our feelings. Also, men are dogs, smelly and don’t pick up after themselves.”

If you don’t believe me, that’s fine, but read the works of Dr.John Grey and you’ll get it.

Cheers.

sguise

Thanks Archan! It’s great to hear you enjoy my posts (doesn’t get old).

I believe you’re right about the differences between men and women generally. “Hanging out with their buds” – lol, nice pun.

Whenever I have had a significant other, she has come first. I place a great deal of importance on romantic relationships. But I suppose when I’m “hanging out with the guys,” she is not typically around – so I’m not sure how that’d go! I enjoy talking about feelings (it’s healthy!). I like beer, football, and women…but other than that, I’m not a very typical male. 🙂

Ashvini

Hi Stephan,

A very good article. Infact my wife and I have same type of arguments all the time 😉 but we resolve it because we love each other. It may be happening because we are strongly emotional and sometimes we go far to press our points.

However, if these kinds of arguments are taken to heart they can be really troublesome. There are moments when we have said something wrong to each other but when the peace is made we have a hearty laugh about it.

It is very important to have arguments but then the hidden items should be clearly spelled out. Knowing each other that way might be more beneficial.

Best regards,
Ashvini

sguise

Hi Ashvini,

You’re right when you say taking arguments to heart is troublesome – it’s important to recognize that the emotions present in an argument prevent sound judgment. I have a question for you.

You said that it is important to have arguments. Why do you need to have arguments when you can just discuss issues? Seeking out the missing information is what prevents discussions from turning into arguments. This question might have to do with which definition of “argument” we’re using, as there are several. I was talking about the “quarrelsome type” where emotions reign over logic.

Ashvini

Hi Stephan,

The arguments which have hidden agenda or quarrelsome,based on your definition, should be avoided . Agreeing to that.

Best regards,
Ashvini

Angus Finlayson

Hey Stephen,

If negative emotions crop up in inane conversation, either you’re reading the non verbal part of the communication wrongly, or there are some underlying, or undisclosed issues with the person to whom you are trying to communicate.

Of course, in your fictional example, we’re assuming that one of the converser’s isn’t in some way deranged! I’ve had occasional conversations with people where it’s all gone Pete Tong (English rhyming slang for ‘wrong’) and I’ve been left wondering, “Am I crazy, or were they?”

Great post, as always Stephen!

Regards
Angus

Tessa

Hi Stephen,

This was a thoughtful, well-written post which I enjoyed reading.

I have a question: my own family at home is very, very quiet. For most of the time we get along well simply because we have common interests, but when something does come up that we don’t like, we keep silent and don’t say anything because we don’t want to hurt one another. Because of this, we hardly ever argue. And yet I wonder, wouldn’t it be better to argue than keep feelings bottled up inside? I know I want to argue, or at least say ‘I’m furious and here’s why’, but I don’t know how to go about it, how to show my feelings but with tact, when my family isn’t familiar dealing with arguments and so every word is taken to heart and hurting everyone involved.

If you could give some advice on what you think, that would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
-Tessa

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