Marriage and Family Therapy Services
Creatively inspiring transformation since 1999
Have you ever noticed, even when you win an argument, it doesn't leave you feeling fulfilled for very long? Have you ever discovered that arguments rarely resolve problems? But they sure do take a lot of energy and certainly can drain vitality and satisfaction in a relationship!
In an argument, people take various positions which usually oppose each other, and individuals or groups involved in the argument tend to think they are more “right” than the others. Generally, arguments arise when people are not willing to consider other people's different positions as being “valid.” We refer to this type of invalidating of others’ opinions as the “right/wrong” paradigm. A paradigm is a realm, or a state of being, and when you in the “right/wrong” state, the only possible outcomes are being proven right, proven wrong, or avoiding being proven wrong.
While there may be a short term feeling of satisfaction when you think you have proven someone else wrong or convinced someone of your position, arguments rarely lead to long term gratification. Everyone in an argument is so busy trying to be “right” and trying to avoid being “wrong,” that no one is actually listening to anyone else. Inevitably, people experience one of two possibilities: they will either feel forced to forfeit their position, or they will refuse to give in and will fight harder.
The first option leads to resentment, because the person who gives in is not actually convinced of the others’ position. In this case, the so called “winner” has not actually “won,” because the opponent simply gives up. Even the winner feels at a loss here, because they usually cannot tell whether or not the other person was actually “convinced,” or whether they just avoided the conflict.
The second option leads to something called “polarization,” where the opposing parties find themselves in a self-fulfilling vicious cycle which sends them father and farther apart, to opposite “poles.” The more each person insists they are right, the more this encourages the other to fight harder to be right and to resist being proven wrong. This “fighting harder” becomes the fuel for the other person’s argument of his own position’s “rightness” and proof of the opponent’s “wrongness.” After a few cycles of this polarization, arguments escalate and can become hurtful and even emotionally or physically violent. This is when people say and do things they later regret. There is certainly no winner here.
In the world of “right/wrong,” there are never any real winners. And if there can be no real winner, then why choose to get involved in a losing game?
Problems are best resolved when people are willing to work together in a creative capacity, towards a workable solution for all. Creativity is only possible when people are not stuck trying to avoid being proven wrong or participating in escalating patterns of polarization. Arguments do not solve problems. PERIOD. Arguments serve as a distraction from whatever the original problem is, because people get caught up in being right or wrong, and rarely get back to the original disagrrement. Only when one or more parties involved in the argument can remove themselves from the “right/wrong” paradigm and allow creativity to come forth, conflict resolution is possible. So, solutions that work for everyone can only be discovered when the “right/wrong” paradigm is transcended. If this is not possible at the time when the argument is occurring, then the discussion should be “tabled,” or put off, until the parties involved are less emotional and can agree to listen to each other’s points of view and search for a solution that fits everyone.
Here is a really important rule to remember when you are attempting conflict resolution. Post it in the areas of your home where the arguing tends to occur. Remind yourself of it often.
We must look beyond the “right and wrong” to see that there is a reason we are so emotionally attached to what we are arguing about. If we didn’t care about the person we were arguing with, the argument would just not matter that much. Have you ever noticed it hurts much more when someone you care about says something hurtful, than if a stranger says the same thing? Those we care about have much more capacity to trigger our emotional responses, precisely because we care so much. And yet, while we are busy trying to prove them wrong, we completely forget about how much we care, and get caught up in the grand distraction of proving them right and not being proven wrong. And what a distraction this is! With those we love the most, we end up spinning our wheels in repetitive cycles of blaming and condemning, justifying and explaining, and we end up nowhere. Arguing literally will get you nowhere. Isn't it time to stop the insanity? But how do we stop it?
Once removed, what do we put in place of the “right/wrong” paradigm? We have to replace it with something more empowering for all parties involved. We must take a stand that the caring we have for the other people in our lives is more important than the cheap payoff of the “win” we think might be possible. We must be willing to reach for something more fulfilling than the predictable mediocrity of proving ourselves right. And we need to have the courage to be the one willing to make this change, even in the face of those who desperately want to prove us wrong!
Contrary to what you might think, it can take just one committed person, rising above the right/wrong paradigm, to depolarize and end an argument. No matter how much someone else wants to “win,” if you are not willing to fight because you refuse to enter into the world of right and wrong, you will not be lured into participating in an argument. But remember, you cannot rise above this paradigm and avoid an argument by thinking that the person who is attempting to argue with you is wrong for trying to argue with you! If you do, you are back in that right/wrong world again. This is tricky; It’s a bit of a paradox, actually. No amount of wanting an argument to stop will actually make it stop, if you are just silently judging the other person as wrong. You are still in the middle of the very same paradigm that had you stuck in the argument before, and you will likely be pulled back into another one!
When we take a stand that the caring we feel is more important than the “win,” we can rise above the temptation to jump into the argument. We avoid having an argument by refusing to have one – not because the other person is “wrong” – but because we care enough about the person that we refuse to waste energy and time in an activity that will not move us forward together. We take a stand that we will no longer participate in any endeavor that tears down someone we care about, including ourselves. When one person wants to fight but can’t find a willing sparring partner, they will be left only to face themselves. The argument will disintegrate, or they will find another sparring partner. Either way, we are no longer engaging in the losing game of arguing.
Listed below are “argument stopper” responses which, when used in a caring context rather than a right/wrong context, can be very powerful for allowing us to practice what is commonly referred to as “loving detachment.” This is the practice that allows us to create transformed relationships based on mutual respect and admiration, love and friendship, forgiveness and reconciliation, trust and honor, contribution, commitment and personal responsibility.
Refusing to participate in an argument takes practice. Your success will be measured by PROGRESS… NOT PERFECTION. It takes WILLINGNESS, and practice. When you are willing to give up the fight for the sake of the caring you feel for the other person… when you are more interested in having a passionate and loving connection with someone than blaming, shaming, accusing, condemning, criticizing, judging, and proving them wrong… THEN you are ready to practice these responses. Do not attempt them until this time, or they will not work. These are not techniques meant to magically alter your communication. The extent to which you successfully experience transcendence from arguments will be determined by your willingness to give up your need to be right. You may need to repeat some or many of these over and over again in a given interaction until the other party realizes you are not willing to participate in the argument. If they refuse to stop, or continue to escalate the argument, you always have the right to leave the room or building.
Join us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter.