Avoid Common Argument Patterns

Noemi J. Mullins

Conflict is a part of every relationship.

Two people are made up of swirling atoms, positive and negative, which attract and repel each other.

The fraught nature of his boyfriend’s reaction to his lateness is the first. Paul wants to “convince his partner” not to feel the same way. We cannot determine for each other that their reactions are out of proportion. It is dangerous to view oneself as the judge of sanity and the arbitrator of overreactions when arguments. “I think that you are taking it too personally.” Don’t make assumptions about how others should or should react to you. It is never a good idea.

Let’s get to the meat of Paul’s question. There are patterns in arguments I have seen over and over. These are the three designs Paul and his partner can look at to consider how to fight better.

Check Your Bias

Damian, Paul’s boyfriend, believes that Paul is deliberately late. I can hear the tone of this argument. “You know how it upsets me,” Damian may say to Paul. “Clearly you act this way because I don’t respect you.”

This assumption is called confirmation bias. We use evidence to support our beliefs and ignore evidence that might challenge them. It can also lead us to rethink our worldview. Paul’s tardiness is magnified no matter how he has been punctual or early.

Why do we believe that other people don’t care? Even though they try to convince us otherwise? These confirmation biases organize our reality – they create order and structure in chaos.

Paul, don’t justify, explain, or make excuses. Give Damian room to be mad. Recognize his frustration. Just say, “I know how you feel”, and “I completely understand that you would feel like this when I’m late.” Give the other person the meaning they have put into the situation. Allow them to feel what they feel and keep in touch with them throughout the conflict.

For Damian, and all of us, think about the times that Paul did the right thing. For more ideas on emphasizing the positive, see my post keeping a log.

Remove the Character Assassination

IT’S USUALLY CIRCUMSTANTIAL when I make a mistake (such as arriving late). If I fail you, I attribute it to your character.

Damian believes that Paul’s tardiness is a character flaw. This is evidence of his disrespectful, uncaring nature, disorganized, distracted, and careless behaviour. Paul has an entirely different view of his behaviour depending on the day. For example, “the subway was blocked” or “I needed to finish this report before I left the office”. We call this a fundamental error. In this case, we attribute the context to our errors, but the partners have faulty personalities.

Another way to put it is: You are perfect, and I am perfect.

When this happens in your relationship, I recommend a lot of humour.

Avoid Always & Never

Conflict can often contract couples and a rigidity that leaves little room for flexibility and nuance. “You’re always late,” says Damian. Paul will reply, “You never recognize what I do for YOU,” Damian says.

These always-and-never statements are factual as if they intensify one’s experience.

If you say “never!” or “always” to someone, they will immediately respond with a disagreement, citing a different example from the past. Do not try to change your feelings into the fake-factual talk. In an ever/never situation, the best thing to do is to say, “It feels as if you do this all of the time.” Although it is possible that you don’t, at this moment, I feel like it.

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