When Arguing, What’s Your True Priority—WINNING OR RESOLVING? [Featuring Four Practical Steps For Positive Resolution]

What follows is for any important relationship you are in, or someone you know is in: romantic love, parent-child, other family members, or platonic friendship.

Let’s suppose you and someone with whom you are in a relationship argue often. Or, you don’t argue very often, but when you do, it can get nasty and contentious. What typically transpires, of course, is that you both go back and forth on the subject of the argument, e.g., money, domestic upkeep, keeping commitments, loyalty, et cetera.  Typical too, though, is the basic underlying message you are each giving each other, regardless of the subject being argued: it’s “I’m right, you’re wrong—and it really pisses me off that you don’t see it my way!”  

Well, ever heard of Newton’s Third Law—you know, the old ‘every action produces an equal and opposite reaction?’  When applying Newton’s Third Law to what l’ll call Human-Relationship Physics, what you can guarantee is happening is that each time one of you is emphatically taking the uncompromising “I’m right, you’re wrong!” position, that’s pretty much reflexively triggering an equal and opposite “No, I’m right, YOU’RE wrong!” position right back!  And round and round can this vicious Newtonian circle go, until one or both or one of you either says something truly mean and things get ugly, or one of you leaves the situation, until the next battle begins, an hour, a day, or a week later.

The question I now ask you is this: by holding on tightly to your “I’m right!” position, what did you win?  Did you get the other person to agree with you? Chances are maybe you forced their hand to agree on a rare occasion, but I doubt anything more constructive than that. Worse, did you and that person do anything at all truly healthy for the relationship? Did you grow together and nurture healthy habits? Obviously not—which is of course very easy for both parties to completely lose sight of during those Newtonian episodes (hey, when you come from an immediate family of quite a few arguers and arguments like I did, you know this stuff all too well, I guarantee you).

So, what can you do to try and nip these episodes in the bud?  Easier said than done for sure!  But, it truly begins with both of you committing to prioritizing RESOLVING over winning.  Practically speaking, resolving can involve the following diffusing steps:    

1)  Listening for what may be some legitimacy in the other person’s position.            

2)  Acknowledging the person’s feeling of the moment, e.g., “Hey, I assure you I see how angry/aggravated you are right now!”             

3) Challenging both of you TOGETHER about how much you’re hurting each other by staying on the attack, e.g., “but hey, can we agree to try and resolve this without hurting each other so much, like we keep doing?”             

4) Deciding together at that moment to either take a self-calming and de-escalating time out, or proceed to have a constructive discussion where intense anger and resentment are kept under control.

Should the two of you—with practice— manage to accomplish that last step, I encourage you to think in positive Newtonian terms of your accomplishment. You together switched the “I’m right, you’re wrong!” action/reaction PROBLEM into the “Hey, let’s really try to resolve this!” action/reaction RESOLUTION!

Oh, and one more thing: try reminding each other that you need to stop acting like adversaries if not enemies, because you supposedly love each other!

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inner bully

How To Shift Your Self-Judgement: A Technique To Overcome Your Inner Bully

I’d like to share with you something I’ve been practicing lately. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), as some of you may know, teaches us that we can practice challenging our negative thinking—including negative self-judgments—by pointing out to ourselves the irrationalities, over-generalizations, and incorrect assumptions in our minds that are creating and perpetuating the toxic negative thinking. Sometimes that approach works just fine. But in enough instances, I find it doesn’t work so well. For example, suppose you are mired in self-critical judgments like “I’m pretty stupid!” or “I’m fat and ugly!” or “I’m so undeserving of being loved!” These, what I call “inner bully,” harsh self-judgments can be pretty darn impenetrable to internal cognitive challenging, like what is practiced in CBT.


So, let me suggest an alternative strategy to getting control over negative self-judgments like these. The strategy involves switching the focus in your mind off of the distressing negative self-judgment you are caught up in, and onto what you are FEELING at that moment. I think it’s safe to say there are certain feelings that almost always create highly self-critical judgment—feelings like: sadness, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, hurt, or irritation.

The point is: what I’ve been preaching—and practicing—is mindfully shifting a negative self-judgment into one of those honest feelings. For example, suppose your inner bully has you saying to yourself something like “Jeez, you really are pretty stupid sometimes!” What you practice doing at those moments is switching immediately to telling yourself what you are really feeling, e.g., “I’m feeling sad right now” or “I’m feeling disappointed right now”—or anxious, or hurt, or pissed off, or jealous, or whatever. By doing this, you are replacing toxic negative self-judgment with a totally NON-judgmental, totally human feeling, one that exists in your emotional core because it belongs there at the moment.

Try it—and just see if like me, you feel like you are giving yourself a golden opportunity to bypass going cognitive with your negative self-judging; and instead, to cut right to non-judgmental honest feeling!