Dear Mr. Self Development,
How do you resolve an argument with your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend in a brief and calm manner?
In order to turn arguments into calm conversations you must follow the 10 Commandments of Arguing.
Let me start with a story for illustration purposes:
Kelly screams at John, “You idiot, why would you buy a new car without telling me.” John yells back, “I’m not a kid; I can do what I want.” Kelly, “You never think, you’re an inconsiderate moron.” John, “A moron? You’re the one who can’t keep a job; if I’m a moron, then you’re stupid.” Kelly, “So you think I’m stupid?” John, “I know you’re stupid!” Kelly, “Whatever! I’m going to my parent’s house!” John, “Good!”
This is an example of how NOT to argue!
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have had enough experience arguing the wrong way (after the first year of being married) to have developed an effective way to argue.
I came up with these commandments to turn a hostile war zone into a somewhat friendly demilitarized conversation. If you follow these commandments to the letter, your arguments will become shorter and shorter. You will eventually have conversations, instead of full-blown wars.
The objective of the commandments is to swiftly turn arguments into calm conversations, every time. Arguments are not inherently bad (sweeping things “under the rug,” or not discussing the issues is “bad”). Arguments are tools which should be used to work out the kinks of a relationship. They should be handled with rules of engagement, and they should serve to improve the relationship.
The 10 Commandments of Arguing:
1. Thou shall stick to the subject at hand – In our example above, you see John talking about Kelly’s inability to hold down a job, but the initial disagreement is about him buying a car without talking to with his wife first.
The Lesson: Stick to the subject at hand, opening up too many issues at one time can cause you to lose focus on resolving the current issue. If someone gets off subject, the other person should re-direct the conversation, back to the main topic.
2. Thou shall not name call – Name calling and insulting, like we see in the example above, only serve to make the other person increasingly defensive. If your objective is to resolve the conflict, insults send you spiraling off in the wrong direction. Besides that, it’s not very nice and/or respectful.
The Lesson: Don’t name call.
3. Thou shall not walk out on the conversation – If your goal is to resolve the issue in as brief amount of time as possible, you should never walk out on the conversation; walking out only prolongs the argument.
The Lesson: Kelly should have stayed and worked out the issue instead of leaving to go to her parent’s house.
4. Thou shall not yell – the act of yelling in an argument raises your anger level. Yelling is essentially unnecessary and only serves to frustrate the yeller and the “yellee.”
The Lesson: Don’t yell.
5. Thou shall not touch – I shouldn’t have to tell the guys not to touch the females (they should already know better), but I will tell the females not to touch the guys. Some women, knowing a guy won’t touch them back, may use an argument as an opportunity to get in a free punch. This only widens the communication gap and makes closure that much more difficult.
The Lesson: No hitting, from anyone.
6. Thou shall stop and consider the other person’s point of view – stopping for a moment to relax and consider the other person’s point of view maybe the most important of the commandments. Instead of thinking how you have been wronged, consider for a moment how the other person is feeling, how they have been treated. Are they really a bad person, or is there just a misunderstanding. Ask them to explain how they feel about the issue.
The Lesson: Listen to the other person.
7. Thou shall keep thy cool – Remaining calm, although difficult, will greatly assist in lowering your frustration level. When you are calm you are able to think logically and make reasonable decisions. When you are angry you become defensive and no amount of reasoning will get you to hear the other person’s point of view.
The Lesson: Remain cool, calm and collected.
8. Thou shall work to understand, resolve and learn from the issue – In other words, no silent treatment, discuss the issue calmly and determine the root cause of the issue. How could the situation have been handled better, what’s the lesson? Both parties should agree to be better in the future.
The Lesson: Decide to learn from the issue.
9. Thou shall apologize – There’s always something to apologize for; your tone, not being considerate, not fully hearing the other person’s point of view, not resolving the situation faster, being offended, etc. Both parties should apologize, even if you “think” you didn’t do anything wrong. If you don’t know what to apologize for, ask your partner, they will know. Don’t worry about who goes first, you take responsibility for your actions and apologize as soon as possible. A heartfelt apology will soften anyone’s anger (even if you just bought a new car without telling your spouse).
The Lesson: There’s always something to apologize for.
10. Thou shall agree to follow the 10 Commandments of Arguing – None of the commandments mean anything, nothing at all (as the Godfather of Soul would say), if you don’t come together in advance and agree to follow them.
The Lesson: Agree to follow the 10 Commandments of Arguing today.
You should print out these commandments and post them in a prominent place. Make sure you and your partner agree to follow the commandments in advance. If you wait until an argument starts to print them…..it will probably be too late.
In concluding, I want to re-state the objective of an argument, keep this in mind so you know what you’re end-goal should look like:
“The objective of an argument, or heated conversation, is to resolve an issue or disagreement, in a relatively brief and calm manner.”
Arguments are good, when they are done properly; they keep bigger issues from cropping up.
Below is the list of the “10 Commandments of Arguing” without the explanations, for easy copying and pasting.
The 10 Commandments of Arguing:
1. Thou shall stick to the subject at hand
2. Thou shall not name call
3. Thou shall not walk out on the conversation
4. Thou shall not yell
5. Thou shall not touch
6. Thou shall stop and consider the other person’s point of view
7. Thou shall keep thy cool
8. Thou shall work to understand, resolve and learn from the issue
9. Thou shall apologize
10. Thou shall agree to follow the 10 Commandments of Arguing
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