According to renowned motivational speaker and life coach Tony Gaskins, “Arguing isn’t communication – it’s noise.” Whether it’s with our partner, our mother, best friend, lover, or spouse of 10 years, we all find ourselves in arguments, whether we like it or not.
As a person who hates confrontation and the negative energy associated with it, I have grown more accepting of the fact that arguments will happen whether I want them to or not. During my 20s, I often used to avoid relationships with people altogether, as to not deal with any of the arguments.
As I aged, however, I learned that avoidance is not healthy. It’s also not sustainable (unless you choose to live like a hermit in the woods or on a remote island like a castaway). Avoidance also speaks volumes about your emotional and mental health. My own avoidance helped me see that I had yet to fully deal with childhood issues, and that I still had work to do with a counselor.
Why Are Arguments So Common in Relationships?
Relationships are tough because dealing with another human being and all of their emotions and quirks is not easy, no matter how well-intentioned we are. Each person has their own ideals, world views, characteristics, habits, pet peeves, mentalities, predispositions, thoughts and unique personalities.
No matter how enmeshed or enamoured we are with another person, they are still them, and you are still you. There are parts of each other we know nothing about. And may never fully understand.
Inevitably, therefore, regardless of how rosy the relationship may seem, you will find your blood boiling by something that person said or done. (Or you’ll be irritated by something they didn’t do.)
You may even go down the rabbit hole of trying to state your case and get the other person to see things from your perspective, only to find yourself getting more frustrated by their lack of receptivity.
If we were patient, rational beings, we’d each use the Toulmin Method and strip the argument down to its bare parts to evaluate which are serving a purpose overall and which are just silly, pointless, and/or ineffective.
Think about how many problems we would solve, how many arguments we’d avoid if we did this? But generally speaking, we don’t do this. Perhaps now more than ever, our patience is thin, and we enter fight-or-flight mode quicker than lightning speed.
Before things escalate or even if they do, there are strategies you can use to pull yourself out of an argument. Remember, this is not about the other person. The only person you can control is yourself. Below are 6 strategies for how to stop an argument:
1. If You Stop to Breathe, You Might Stop an Argument
We often don’t remember to take a deep breath. Sure, we breathe automatically every 1.5–2 seconds to survive, but what I mean is, we don’t fully breathe the way we are supposed to. We don’t take enough deep, controlled breaths – the kind that help regulate the nervous system.
Deep breathing should occur from our belly (referred to as belly breathing, where your belly rises and falls) instead of from the chest.
When we are tense, our breathing gets even more shallow than normal, which creates a cycle of higher anxiety and shallower breathing. It’s amazing how much deep breathing can calm you down.
As your discussion is getting heated, pause. Take a deep inhalation through your nose. Put your hand on your belly so you can feel your stomach expand. Put your other hand on your heart. Then tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale slowly through pursed lips.
This should quickly send a calming sensation throughout your body and allow you to have control over your thoughts and words.
Try one of these breathing exercises for the most effective way to calm down and self-soothe.
2. Rephrase What They’re Saying So They Feel Heard
Try to restate or rephrase what you are hearing from the other person so they feel understood. Oftentimes, people argue or yell because they just want to be acknowledged and feel heard.
This doesn’t mean you are giving in. Nor does it mean you necessarily agree with what they are saying. Restating simply shows the other person that you care enough to actively listen instead of thinking of your next response or acting out on emotion.
Notice their reaction when you do this. Chances are they will be displaying signs of calming down, because they feel heard. You could stop an argument just by listening and acknowledging.
If you can, try right then and there to step into the other person’s shoes and offer them some empathy.
This doesn’t mean you have to show compassion and kindness at that moment. Like with restating, it doesn’t even mean you fully understand why they are saying what they are saying.
It’s just important that you take a step back to really analyze what’s behind their words. There is always a reason why people say what they say, whether we or they even know it or not.
If it makes no sense to you, or you feel it’s ridiculous or blown out of proportion, think of what’s possibly occurring in the background.
Perhaps what they are saying is coming from a place of jealousy? Anger? Fear of abandonment? Depression or anxiety? Past or unresolved issues with someone else?
Keep in mind that this also applies to you. You should also analyze your own words and thoughts for background issues. I call this “empathizing with my Self”.
If you can pinpoint possible reasons, do not call them out. Just take these into careful consideration when choosing your words. Doing this will help you take a step back to see beyond the argument at hand and provide you with some insight and rationalization.
4. Go Somewhere Else Mentally
Take your mind away from the situation and focus on something else neutral. Anything. I am not implying that you totally ignore what the other person is saying.
Briefly redirecting your mind elsewhere can give you the chance to calm down and prevent you from interrupting the other person, saying something you’ll regret, or exploding.
It also enables you to allow the other person to let out what they need to let out. Now take another deep breath and try to express yourself calmly.
5. Do Not Fall Victim to the Ad Hominem Fallacy
Do not fall victim to the Ad Hominem Fallacy. Sooner or later, an individual may attack the other person instead of the content of what they are saying. Calling names, insulting, belittling, and putting down are all examples of the ad hominem fallacy.
Obviously, you can see how unobjective this is, and how much this can exacerbate an argument. Don’t do this. Don’t allow the other person to do this to you.
The focus needs to be only on what is being said. Verbalize this if you or the other person start going down that road.
6. Step Away for a Break
If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, nothing will get resolved and the situation may only get worse. So step away. Go to another room, or to the bathroom, or out for a walk.
I do not mean picking up your phone or turning on the TV. That just shows blatant disregard. Taking yourself physically away from the situation allows you to focus on calming yourself down, and it shows the other person that you are attempting to stop the argument.
Let the other person know what you are doing and why so that you both have a chance to calm down and possibly re-assess the situation more objectively.
Perhaps once you’ve both taken time to reflect, and you’ve taken space from each other to calm down, you’ll be able to have a calm and constructive discussion – which is very different from an argument.