Relationship Technique: The Argument Contest

What’s an argument contest? If I were to give a more appropriate name to this technique, it would be the ‘Who Can Stop an Argument the Fastest?’ contest. This technique is actually a skill development exercise aimed at reducing the length, frequency, and severity of arguments between couples.

But before we learn how to stop the argument, we need to learn how to see an argument coming.

  • Tone of voice. As people close in towards an argument, tone become more harsh, angry, contemptuous, critical, mean, and snippy. Yelling is also a bad sign.
  • Responses speed up. When two people are about to argue, they begin to respond to each other more reactively and with less and less thought of what is about to be said.

  • One or both stops listening. Once an argument ensues, neither are really listening to the other anymore. Generally, during an argument, both are fighting for airtime, believing that if they can speak over the other that it will result in being heard. Really, it only results in a battle.
  • Defensiveness. When one or the other becomes defensive, an argument is usually not far behind. Defensiveness tends to breed defensiveness (which tends to then breed an argument).
  • Criticism and/or blame. Criticism and blame is generally the precursor to defensiveness. While it’s not automatic that this will happen, there’s a good chance that criticism and blame will result in bad before it will result in good.
  • Fighting words. This includes name calling or any form of verbal antagonism.
  • Physical behaviors. Pushing, shoving, spitting when speaking, tensing muscles, clenching your jaw, et al.

These are seven strong indicators of how to recognize that an argument is either on its way, or at least the potential for an argument is strong.

What is the Argument Contest?

The next time you find yourself in an argument with your partner, your job is to end the argument the moment you notice the potential for the argument, or when you realize you already are in an argument. It most likely won’t be easy to do, especially when our own emotions of anger, frustration, irritation, etc., are clouding our judgment.

The problem many of us have with arguments is that we are equipped with an argument threshold. It’s a different threshold for each of us, depending on many deeper factors. We reach a point in the argument where we’ve decided to engage — whether it’s due to pride, strong convictions, hurt feelings, or something else. Once we hit that threshold, we end up in the argument until it ends, however that may happen.

So the point of this contest with our partner is, every time there’s an argument, to see who can drop the issue first. This will take practice, and it will take effort each time. But if you work on this, the  idea is that our threshold will become stronger and stronger. Eventually, we may see an argument coming and instinctively just drop it. This would be the most desired result.

A side note: This technique is not meant to resolve the issue in question, it is only meant to prevent the argument (and the unpleasantness and disrespect that often accompanies an argument). Therefore, setting time aside to calmly re-address the issue in question will still be necessary later on.

Here are a few suggestions of how to drop an argument once indicators are sighted:

1) Acknowledge the argument. Let your partner know that you see an argument coming. Also, it’s a good idea not to tell your partner what behaviors of theirs you are observing while in the moment. This will come out as contemptuous and actually make it worse. If your partner wants to know what you noticed later when things are calm, that’s a better time to address any indicators you saw. Keep an open mind, as sometimes your partner may have some for you, too.

2) Request a break from the conversation. Though this is a “request”, it’s really just a nicety. If your partner is beyond the argument threshold, you may just have to request the break and then walk away. Beware of the partner that tries to persist. This makes your job harder, but it’s still necessary to be the one to drop the argument.

3) Leave the room. When emotions are more intense, it may take leaving the room or house to fully break away from the argument. If you are followed out, remind your partner that you’re not leaving because of them, you’re leaving because you don’t want to end up arguing and you don’t trust yourself right now to not argue.

4) Change the Subject. This one requires some skill since it’s not only your own emotions you’re contending with, but also your partner’s. If you know of a topic that will distract your partner in a positive way, this can soothe some of the dysregulation in the room. For example, if your partner likes talking about work, sports, books, tv, etc., bringing up a topic of interest early enough in the process may be a positive repair of the situation.

5) Reward yourself. I don’t recommend keeping score of who stops more arguments. Inevitably, one begins to feel annoyed if there’s an idea that they’re starting more arguments. But when you acknowledge yourself preventing an argument that could have happened were it not for your efforts, do a little something positive for yourself for it.

Remember, it’s not easily possible to stop every argument, and some mild arguing is even a healthy thing for a relationship. Don’t be discouraged if some slip through.

Practice well!

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