Spousal Relationships: Avoid Unnecessary Arguments
"There are two sides to every argument, until you take one," said Milton Berle. Whether you know it or not, smart people have dumb arguments about unimportant things. Rather than continuing to allow such arguments to stress us out and poke holes in our relationship, we can become "conflict-wise," by learning to recognize and sidestep them.
For instance, a while ago my husband and I were driving to a 99 cent store to buy some party supplies. I mentioned, "You know, a lot of these so-called 99 cent stores charge more than 99 cents for many of the items they sell."
"Not possible," he said. "All 99 cent stores sell everything at that price. That's why they're called 99 cent stores."
"That's not true. You don't know because you haven't been to one. The 99 cent thing is just a way to get more people into the store," I explained.
"Why would they call it a 99 cent store if it's not one?" he shot back, still trying to convince me.
"Wait a minute," I blurted out. "This is a dumb argument about a fact. Why don't we just hold on for 10 minutes, get to the store, and we'll have our answer?" He agreed, so we shut our mouths and found the answer in the store. (I was right!).
We were having a dumb factual argument, exactly the kind of worthless, energy-draining fight I discuss with my couples mediation clients, and write about in my book, Fight Less, Love More. The argument topic could be anything from the name of a restaurant to a random statistic, but the wise response to this type of conflict is to pause and say, "We're having a dumb argument, let's stop fighting and check the fact on the internet, or call a friend."
Now that sounds like common sense, right? But if it's so easy to be sensible in the moment, then I suggest you consider whether you've been involved in another type of dumb argument: the post-argument argument. This happens when you've gotten what you want but then you have just one more thing to say ... and so the fight starts all over again.
How come we can't just quit while we're ahead? From my perspective as a mediator, the post-argument argument happens because the one word "okay" isn't good enough for most people. Why? Because, we are driven to win an even greater victory, something more than our mate's agreement, we want that person to admit that we were 100 percent right from the start. When we become aware that we are heading down that destructive path, it's time to close our mouths and leave well enough alone. Anything else is downright, well, dumb.
If the above-described arguments (the factual and post-argument ones) sound familiar to you, this third one might too – the dumb premature argument. An example of this might be fighting over whether to buy a ranch or colonial style house, when you move out of your apartment, in three years, when your child hits kindergarten age.
If an argument revolves around something that can't be acted upon for a long time, it's premature because facts, preferences and circumstances will change over time. As a result, your opinion will most likely be altered by the time the decision becomes imminent. If you're arguing about something that doesn't need an immediate decision, short-circuit the fight by saying, "Why don't we wait to have this discussion until we actually need to?"
Why do we lose our common sense from time to time? Because we are human, and emotion will overtake our logic, if we let it. Hereafter, to avoid dumb arguments, take charge, engage your brain, identify the type of dumb argument you're having, and button your lip. Most likely, you will have a good laugh instead of a bad argument.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, relationship expert, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In," who appears on Good Morning America, 20/20, Fox News and CNN. Most importantly, she is a wife and mother to two young children. Visit her interactive site at www.fightlesslovemore.com.