THE ANATOMY OF AN ARGUMENT

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A hurtful argument usually has a basic anatomy. Maybe you can relate to the following example.

My wife and I went on a beautiful walk and picnic. After eating, everything seemed fine until I started talking about possible investment. Suddenly she became upset that I would consider investing a certain portion of our saving in aggressive stocks. From my point of view I was only considering it, but what she heard wast that I was planning it (without even considering her point of view). She became upset that I would do such a thing. I became upset with her for being upset with me, and we had an argument.

I thought she disapproved of my investment choices and argued for their validity. My argument however was fueled by my anger that was she was upset with me. She argued that aggressive stocks were too risky. But really she was upset that I would consider this investment without exploring her ideas on the subject. In addition she was became so upset that I was not respecting her right to be upset. Eventually I became so upset that she apologized to me for misunderstanding and mistrusting me and we cooled down.

Later on, after we had made up, she posed this question. She said, “Many times when we argued, it seems that I get upset about something, and you get upset that I am upset, and than I have to apologize for upsetting you. Somehow I think something is missing. sometimes I would like you to tell me you are sorry for upsetting me.”

Immediately I saw the logic of her point of view. Expecting an apology from her did seem rather unfair, especially when I upset her first. This new insight transformed our relationship. As I shared this experience in my seminars I discovered that thousand of women could immediately identify with my wife’s experience. It was another common male/female pattern. Let’s review the basis pattern.

 

1. A woman express her upset-feeling about “XYZ”

2. A man explains why she shouldn’t be upset about “XYZ”

3. She feels invalidated and becomes more upset. (She is now more upset about being invalidated than about “XYZ.”)

4. He feels her disapproval and becomes upset. He blames her for upsetting him and express an apology before making up.

5. She apologizes and wonders what happened, or she becomes more upset and the argument escalates into a battle.

 

With a clearer awareness of the anatomy of an argument, I was able to solve this problem in fairer way. I practiced not blaming her for being upset. Instead I would seek to understand how I had upset her and show her that I cared. Even if she was misunderstanding me, if she felt hurt by me I needed to let her know that I cared and was sorry.

When she would become upset I learned first to listen, then genuinely to try to understand what she was upset about, and then to say, “I’m sorry that I upset you when I said—–.” Then result was immediate. We argued much less.

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