The Road that Leads to Nowhere


Several weeks ago, I had a heated argument  with my then, significant  other.  We were on the phone arguing about how he doesn’t call me enough and how he thinks I’m too demanding of his time.  I can remember thinking of new ways to tell him that I wished he would call me more frequently, but with every new angle I took, he returned with a new way of arguing the exact same thing he said previously. This whole process was maddening!!!  I began to wonder, “Is he doing this to purposely drive me crazy?”  It was like the more we talked about this the angrier each of us became.

They always say that hindsight is 20/20. Later on that night as I was replaying the conversation in my mind, I realized that we were caught in a negative escalation cycle. What I mean by this is that he more we tried to communicate to solve our problem, the angrier we became and the more distressing our interaction became. Both of us had good intentions: we wanted our problem to be resolved. However, we were so caught up in trying to get the other to “see it my way” that we completely neglected to listen to what the other was saying.

Sound familiar? I figured you would say yes. This type of interaction is common to many couples. An issue arises that leads to a disagreement because neither of you see the issue in the same manner.  Partner One tries to convince the Partner Two that his/her point of view is more valid and should be accepted as the truth.  Period.  The problem arises because Partner Two sees the issue not only completely differently, but this person see his/her opposing opinion is the end all be all to the argument, as well. It’s no wonder a fight is on the horizon.  I can almost hear the “ding!” that signals the beginning of a boxing match as two people prepare to go at it to prove that their point is the right one.

I realize that disagreements with significant others are inevitable but the way we handle them is key to the difference between a satisfying or dissatisfying relationship. Research consistently finds that people in the most pleasant relationships are those in which people are able to communicate their differences without the discussion become too laden with anger. Inquiring minds may want to know how to accomplish this.

Take a break! Yes, I said it. Take a break from the argument. When we become too upset or angry about a pressing matter, it becomes difficult to think. Taking a 10-15 minute break from an argument when one sees that it is going nowhere helps to remove partners from the potentially negative interaction so that they will be able to calm down and think. It will be during these times that one may realize that saying the same thing over and over will not prove productive for the maintenance of the relationship.  Also, when we are calm, we are better able to listen to what the other person has to say instead of becoming defensive. In my own situation, our failure to take a break from the argument only made matters worse at the time.  After returning to the matter later on that night (after each of us had time to reflect and calm ourselves) we were able to have a much more productive conversation and were better able to listen to each other.  Learning to do this is a process in the making, but developing this skill will save a lot of time and energy wasted on arguments that ultimately lead to nowhere.                                                         

Ashley Anders, M.S


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