Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Arguing Can Be Relationship Power Tool

Most people don't think arguing is a great relationship component but I disagree. In fact, I think arguments can be one of the most powerful tools we have to keep our relationships healthy. Having a good exchange of opposing ideas (with the goals of mutual respect and compromise) can be tremendously helpful. Of course there is a big difference between fighting and productive arguing. Lawyers do it every day.

Unfortunately we don't have the training and discipline lawyers do. Most of us let an issue go and grow before we address it. Then we have bad feelings backing up the "issue" giving it a twist. Instead of a useful argument we launch an attack. While the goals may vary from being right to punishment, they are far from helpful.

We all know by now, as revealed in books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti that the two genders have a gap in communicating styles. I'd like to write a book called Men are Meatheads and Women are Puddin' Pies. Traditionally men are all about the meat; the solid substance, while women are more about the sweet, feel-good stuff. Not always, but that's what science tell us. That's why we have a hard time pursuing and surviving an argument with the opposite gender. When you throw deep emotional connection into the mix, it's all the more challenging.

Arguing with style, grace and purpose can be like poking holes in a microwave dinner before you cook it. It releases the steam so there isn't a messy explosion. Most people know some of the "rules" of healthy arguing but I'm offering my version as a reminder.

  • Never engage in name-calling (like meathead or puddin' pie)
  • Don't bring up past or unrelated issues (...you're discussing his spending habits and sneak in a comment about what he DIDN'T buy you last Christmas)
  • Use "I" messages because your feelings are what validates the point (but don't say "I think you're a meathead" *see first item on list)
  • Keep your voice under control (the neighbors would rather not know)
  • Put the discussion on hold if you are angry or irrational
  • Seek to find common ground, not to win
  • Initiate and practice healthy arguing so that it becomes second nature and not unusual or difficult
  • Always hug it out at the end!
If you have a legendary argument story, dish it here! Also tips to add to the ones above.
Diane Markins


Anonymous said...

Thanks, this is great! I needed it desperately with my ex! :-) I like the "Fighting For Love" play on words. Kim

Anonymous said...

When Jerry and I have a disagreement over an issue and we feel we both have enough information to prove our point and still feel strongly about our individual belief in said issue we simply agree to disagree and that’s the end of it..I will not engage in a battle of wits unless I have adequate information to back up my position. It is better if people can discuss things and not get the school yard mentality..or a he said she said ..Good post Thanks..

Anonymous said...

The RC church has a program called "Marriage Encounter". It is designed to improve the communication between couples. Friend Harold was active in the program & although I never attended, we put many of their activities into practice in our relationship. One of the best pieces is what we did. Write a letter to each other on a weekly basis. Writing helps us stay in the "I" statement mode. Then come together at a pre-arranged time & read our letters to each other. We added our own 'wrinkle' to the process by choosing a question that each would answer & then discuss at our weekly "communication" meetings.

Over the years, we 'internalized' that practice so that now we do it almost instinctively. Since friend Harold is a very impatient person who has a tendency to "snap" at folks (me included). . .I've learned to speak up and 'call' him on it & he smiles with recognition & says - "sorry".

How do I "call" him on it? I simply say. . . "you don't need to snap at me as I have nothing to do with". . . (whatever it is about which he's snapping).

Many times, it's our 'body language' that reveals our true feelings. We can say the exact same words using a different body stance & have another's reaction to our words be totally different.

Great post, Diane. Thanks much for laying it out here for us to 'chew' on!
Linda F.

Anonymous said...

Being a communication major focusing on interpersonal relationships, you have triggered many thoughts for me. First, I prefer to use the term "discussing" rather than arguing. Although, I do like your explanation. Something I have learned in my recent studies has been the importance of maintenance strategies that, if used, greatly increase marital satisfaction. Practicing positivity, using assurances, and being open (self disclosing) are three that directly relate to verbal communication and may be used in place of "arguing" (or perhaps to help prevent it). Some scholars are using something called the "DINN" when coding conversations these days. That is direct and nice, direct and nasty, indirect and nice, and indirect and nasty communication. Using the above strategies will most likely help your communication fall into the "direct and nice" category. Such communication is proven to help you get your way (a little bit of enticement) and will have positive outcomes in your relationship. My advice would be to consider if what you're saying is going to be interpreted as direct and nice. Be supportive and acknowledge what your partner is saying before coming across as accusatory, negative, or hostile.

I feel like I might be missing the point of your post, but this is what instantly popped into my mind. Thanks for getting me thinking

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thought-filled response. To be completely honest I used the word (argue) to entice people to read the post. If I were to have said "discussion" I think people might have been less likely to see where I was headed. Truthfully I think we're talking about the same thing; honesty, respect and kindness as we exchange ideas. I appreciate your comment!
Diane Markins

Anonymous said...

i think that the minute that the conversation changes into raised voices and impatience we loose ground instead of gain it. the focus should always be on listening to our spouse (or whoever we're talking to). we'll have a pretty hard time serving others if we're arguing with them. if service and elevating the others' needs are our priority, then force-feeding someone our thoughts should seem out of the question.

when a disagreement arises (and they often do) i try my best to listen and then contemplate. i make my final decision (for myself) based on how i feel in addition to the other person's feelings. i'm learning to "sort it out" peacefully instead of argue.

good stuff!


Diane Markins said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people would apply these great practices? Most of us get a good lesson on these things in school, at work and in church...so these are not new concepts. I think it takes more humility, discipline and patience than most people want to invest to interact in a more productive way. Any other thoughts on why people don't communicate better?