What’s an argument contest? If I were to give a more appropriate name to this relationship 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 or attention toward 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 an exhausting 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 discord.
- 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, the task 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 pride and ego can cloud our judgment in these battles.
The problem many people 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. There’s a point in the argument where you effectively decide to engage — whether it’s due to pride, strong convictions, hurt feelings, or something else. Once you hit that threshold, you end up in the argument until it ends, however that may happen.
So the point of this contest with your 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 your threshold will become stronger and stronger. Eventually, you 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 that often accompanies an argument). Therefore, setting time aside to calmly re-address the issue at hand will still be necessary later on.
There are different ways to drop an argument once indicators are sighted. You may directly acknowledge that you see an argument coming on and want a break from the conversation. You can leave the room and engage in another activity that distracts you from the conversation until a later time where you can return to it in a calmer mood together. If you are followed out of the room, 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.
It’s also possible to change the subject, which may require a bit of finesse if emotions are running high. But if you’re able to toss the argument for a topic that you can both agree on, that’s another way to prevent an argument.
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 are able to successfully stop an argument, give yourself a small reward for it.
Remember, it’s not easily possible to stop every argument, and some mild arguing is actually even a healthy thing for a relationship (depending on the issue and how often it happens). Don’t be discouraged if some slip through.