How to Break Old Habits of Arguing, Part I


Lyn and Danny came to me for pre-marital counseling. Lyn quickly assured me that she didn’t think they needed to see me; it was Danny’s idea. When I explained that my approach is from a communications angle she again said they didn’t have any problems, though she “might” be too passive in their arguments, especially when Danny’s his usual “pigheaded” self.

Danny readily admitted he’s competitive and enjoys arguing even when he knows he’s wrong.  So I asked Lyn if she enjoys arguing with Danny. She grunted that she hates it, but doesn’t care because she just shuts down and lets him have his way.

At this point, Danny jumped in saying that he hates when she shuts down. “Then why do you argue?” Lyn demanded. “You know I just want to get what I want,” she matter-of-factly explained.

“There, that’s the kind of attitude I don’t like,” Danny said.  “She doesn’t take what I say seriously. I’ll explain why we need to do something a certain way and she ignores everything I say.”

“Is that true?” I asked Lyn.

“I know what he’s going to say and I don’t want to be told I can’t have something when I feel I should have it. He doesn’t respect me; he never listens to me.”

Exasperated, Danny tossed out, “She doesn’t have reasons for anything.  All she has are feelings.”

Let’s pause here. By personality and profession (engineer) Danny values logic. Lyn, by personality and profession (sales), values feelings. He thinks logic is going to win the day because that’s how logic is supposed to work. But, as soon as Lyn begins to feel he’s clobbering her with facts, she shuts down. Then Danny becomes frustrated when he sees her give up. He wants her to fight for her ideas. He’s a competitor and that’s what competitors do!

They’ve created dance steps for arguing. He lectures. She shuts down. He pushes harder. She digs in her heels (very expensive ones). Then — silence. He fumes and she plots to get what she wants.

Those dance steps are now the air they breathe and so they presume, “Well, that’s just the way we are.” In this respect, Danny and Lyn are like many of us. Over time, couples create their own style for arguing.

Perhaps you, too, feel frustrated that your arguments are like Groundhog’s Day — a never-ending stream of clichés that ultimately don’t get you what you need and want.

Well, next week, I’ll give you five simple things you and your partner can do to break self-sabotaging habits when arguing!

Please send your communication questions to me at:

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