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How To Argue Without The Sky Falling Down

1. Be present – argue with the person in front of you.

When you think back to some of your worst arguments, be honest with yourself – who were you arguing with? The person in front of you or a parent? Bullies from school? An ex? Yourself? Out of respect for you and [who you’re arguing with], argue with them. Leave your old adversaries outside. It’s not the other party’s job to validate your previous experiences or to help you make up for lost time. If I thought I was arguing with my mother, I’d feel a mix between frustration that I can’t win and in knowing that it’s not her that’s actually in front of me, feeling like I should be extra vigilant and fight hard. I’d be defensive, snippy, pointed. The thing is, I’m an adult now – I don’t even need to be that way with her never mind someone else.

2. Listen.

This helps with #1. If you’re too busy thinking about the next thing you’re going to say or reliving a previous experience or imagining the worst and that you’re about to be rejected and abandoned, the one thing you’re not doing is listening.

Your imagination is far better at bringing the sky down than anyone else. If you don’t want to feel like it’s all going belly up, wake up and get into the present and out of your overactive imagination where your fears and insecurities reside.

How can you try to have a discussion or argument with someone when you don’t even bring your ears to it? Listen to what they have to say, especially if you’re expecting them to listen to you. Don’t talk over them, don’t hear their words and then do a default translation of I’m not good enough or They’re attacking me, or They’re leaving me. Listen. And you know what? Listen to yourself while you’re at it. In a pre-wedding argument, I realised at one point that I wasn’t even sure what I was arguing about and on another occasion, I realised that we were actually agreeing with each other! In the time before self-esteem, at times I sounded like a child and at others, I sounded blinded by anger. Listen. If they criticise, which to be fair, is inevitable in conflict, you don’t have to buy into it and judge you, but do listen to see if there is any truth to it.

3. Turn off your ‘hot button’.

Do you have the same argument in a different package with a different person? It’s not to say that there may not be similarities to previous experience(s), but actually, they might not be similar. How you feel may be similar if you’re very sensitive to a particular type of situation that has not been resolved or your default mode is to feel rejected when conflict is on the horizon but the actual content of the situation may be very different and may be causing you to defend something that doesn’t need defending.

Example: The argument that caused me to change my argument style of bailing was when I got angry because ‘the boyf’ had been out with some friends who I didn’t know very well who were querying our relationship. I’ll be honest, it didn’t matter what they said, and it certainly didn’t seem to matter about what he’d said or the fact that in hindsight, it was all a rather innocuous conversation – I became incredibly defensive and upset. It was a ‘hot button’ of mine. Why? Because in a particularly difficult relationship, I’d had to put up with an ex being rather disloyal by having his sometimes racist friends and family slag me off to him. I then became hypersensitive to being talked about. When I saw my boyfriend looking completely confused and rather alarmed, I realised that I was being really unfair, unreasonable and disrespectful.

Be careful of ‘hot buttons’ – you will falsely accuse people of being and doing things that they’re not. Recognise when your hot button is on and breathe out, count to ten and think carefully about the actual situation at hand and listen to them before you make your next argument. Acknowledge the differences and if you’re going to judge or argue with someone, do it on their merit.

4. It’s not about winning

If you’re playing to ‘win’ what you don’t realise is that you have a mandate of making the other person ‘wrong’ or a loser. It is one thing if you’re in a debate, but certainly, if you’re arguing with someone who you claim to like or even love, it can become very petty and even disrespectful. Don’t treat it like you’re in a courtroom and you’re the prosecutor, and know when to wind your neck in. Somebody has to stop. Once you have made your points and certainly once you’ve realised that you’re both not really getting anywhere and are now arguing about how you’re arguing, it’s time to step away. You’re not a ‘loser’ if you’re the first one to say ‘enough’. Trust me, if you’re in a relationship where if you don’t get verbal confirmation that you’re right, you’re going to argue till the cows come home or feel like a ‘loser’, this relationship (and by this, I mean all types of relationship) is not going anywhere.

5. Fight fairly

You can be angry without going into a territory that some might call Assclownville. Don’t character assassinate, don’t name call, be careful of excessive swearing, going up in their face, banging, easy on the mocking, and take turns to speak instead of hogging up the conversation like “It’s my argument, and I’m gonna do all of the talking!” I would feel like the sky was falling down if when I so much as thought about conflict, I thought I was going to experience all of these things or that I was going to be engaging in these behaviours.

I would also caution against the passive aggression that comes about when you know that you’re pissed off and that you need to have a conversation and yet you say nothing, stew, and possibly deny that something is wrong while at the same time showing your annoyance in your behaviour and tone, even if you don’t realise it.

Sometimes you need some time before you speak up and sometimes that time inside your own head is used to work out whether there really is an argument there, but if it’s gone on for more than a day or so and it’s weighing on your mind, out of respect for yourself and them, speak up.

Don’t threaten them either. Threatening that you’re going to do something to them or to yourself, that you’ll leave, that you don’t like them, is not mature adult behaviour. I vowed after the argument about his friends that I would never threaten to bail again and I’ve stuck to my word.

6. Stay on topic

This is what myself and my brother call ‘bringing up old sh*t’, something that our mother is hilarious at. She pulls out everything but the kitchen sink, talking about something I did when I was 16, things my brothers have done (hello!), colleagues, ‘everyone this’, her childhood. What the what now? Stay on topic. Address your leading point because if you would go to the trouble of having an argument with someone, something in the present is what has triggered the argument and that in itself should be point enough. This isn’t a courtroom. You are not laying out your body of evidence and presenting your case, and it’s particularly disrespectful when you start to bring up stuff that you haven’t previously raised, or you’ve told the other person that you were OK with it.

If you stick to the topic at hand, it reduces the amount of drama and prevents that whole sky falling down feeling.

And note that the other party going off topic or even pulling a switcheroo on you and turning it around is a deflect move to cover up their own mistake or to ‘strengthen their argument’. If it’s getting to the point where both or one of you are pulling in all sorts of subjects, step away. Come back to the conversation when you’re both calmer and ready to talk about what you’re actually supposed to be arguing about.

7. Explain why their argument/rationale doesn’t make sense to you. Explain why the behaviour didn’t work.

“You’ve said ____________ and hearing this, I feel that you don’t ____________ because it gives me the impression that you think _______________ or are doing _____________.” This communicates your perspective.

“I’m upset because when you said/did ___________, I felt that you weren’t __________”

“You insisting that I’m ‘wrong’ because I ______________ is frustrating because ________________”

“When you _______________ I feel that you don’t respect me because ____________ or that you’re not making an effort/taking consideration of my feelings.”

“If I said/did [insert what they said/did] to you, how would you feel? What would you do?” This gives them an opportunity to see how their behaviour looks and feels.

Do avoid saying stuff like “You made me..” or “You’re always…” or “You know I love you but…” because it’s the type of thing that winds people up.

8. Check your beliefs

A lot of arguments come about from what we think people ‘should’ or ‘must’ do but also from our own beliefs about relationships, life, love and ourselves. Just like the other person has their perspective and rationale, so do you. Make sure that you’re not using an unhealthy belief as the basis of the position that you’re trying to establish because no half decent and healthy person in their right mind is going to co-sign that and agree with your argument.

9. Know when to step away

You must recognise that once your points have been made, to continue arguing is to do so just for the hell of it. It’s venting, it’s having that sensation of being heard, of fighting, but it’s actually going to cause you to feel regretful afterwards. If you argue without getting medieval, you are far more likely to feel at peace even if you both haven’t necessarily reached a resolution at the end of the argument, which may not happen actually until after you’ve calmed down which will likely happen after some time out.

When you keep arguing, when you fight dirty, it actually gives the impression that things have been left unsaid and that you both need to return to now discuss all the extra stuff that you said and did.

That’s why I caution people about breaking up in anger and about telling people all about themselves in an argument. You will forget the legitimacy of your position and possibly end up apologising for things that you don’t need to and even letting the other person off the hook for saying or doing something that irrespective of how the argument played out, it was not appropriate.

If you’re not getting anywhere, step away. Go and clear your head, have a cup of tea, do something – don’t try and force the argument to go where you want it to. We don’t all have a clear perspective when we’re arguing or pissed off.

If you’ve made your point, wind up the conversation.

If it is the case that the person has made an error / busted your boundaries and you feel that they are not acknowledging it, either explain your position again differently (there’s no point in explaining the same way), or step away. When they return to the discussion, don’t allow them to press the Reset Button and ask them to acknowledge where they have erred. If they won’t, leave it be even if it means opting out (if it’s that serious). I find with some people, when they’ve had some time, they ‘suddenly’ see things from your perspective or try to creep around you apologising indirectly. If it’s a recurrent issue, you will both need to put aside some time to address it and find a resolution calmly and if it isn’t, try for a calm conversation and agree to move on. If you suspect that they don’t really ‘get’ why it’s an issue, and it’s not currently serious enough to opt out, I’d flag it as an amber warning but move on.

10. Let it go

I don’t hold on to my conflicts because when I have, it has affected my health due to all of the stuff rattling around in my head. Next thing I had tinnitus. I have neither the time or the inclination to carry around a conflict for any great length of time. If we have a run-in, it tends to be over before the day is out. I have about a 3-day rumination limit after a conflict outside of the home, and then I start saying “Let it go Nat” instead of chasing the thoughts, and I use my hands to do a letting go motion.

Trust me, if you don’t make the choice to let it go, the sky is going to feel like it’s coming down because you’re going to be stewing or you’re going to keep bringing it up.

If you’re not saying your piece, say it, because people who are indirect and hint as a way of trying to avoid unfavourable outcomes end up labouring over numerous discussions when it would probably have taken one or two if they had just got to the point. You also have to choose to be done because honestly, you could go from here to eternity remembering Just one more thing that you think you need to get across. It then becomes that you’re ruminating and having an argument with yourself. Let it go.

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