How To Defuse Fights And Arguments With Dignity
Most fights that deteriorate into vicious jousting matches are marked by the trading of Accusatory Statements. Each participant behaves as if it’s an indisputable fact that the other person either did something evil or is evil in some undeniable way.
So let’s re-examine “You are so inconsiderate!” as an example of an Accusatory Statement.
Although she states this “fact” as if it were completely true, what she’s really saying to you is that, “I feel unhappy about _____” (insert whatever it was that prompted her unhappy comment in the first place).
However, if she phrased it that way (i.e. honestly), that would raise the possibility that she might be overly sensitive or just mistaken. For her, that’s a less comforting conclusion than you being the bad guy with her being the innocent victim.
It’s grossly unfair of her to attack you that way, of course. But women do this often.
Here’s another point: not only is she being unfair, but also she’s being unrealistic when she starts attacking you for making her life so difficult.
Contrary to her claims, your behavior (a stimulus) did not cause her feelings to erupt quite the way they did (a response). Life’s not that simple.
In reality, we don’t live in a “stimulus-response” world despite what many people think. In any given situation, different people react in different ways. That means there must be a third ingredient to the “stimulus-response” pairing, and there is:
How each person interprets a given situation makes a huge difference.
The actual sequence works like this:
And not like this:
The reason many people gravitate toward the latter sequence is largely because it excuses them from taking responsibility for the problem about which they’re fighting.
So let’s put the Stimulus-Interpretation-Response model into the context of interacting with the woman in your life:
You do something (the stimulus).
She first interprets it as somehow threatening her own interests, and
She then reacts harshly to her own interpretation. Another person might have interpreted your behavior quite differently and therefore also reacted quite differently.
Have you ever said something as a joke to a group of people and found that some of them thought it was funny while others took it as some sort of personal affront?
Same stimulus, different interpretation, different reaction. It happens all the time when people interact.
Applying Interpretations To Your Advantage
Besides understanding how the Stimulus-Interpretation-Response sequence works, there’s another preliminary concept you need to know for defusing tense relationship situations.
What we feel in any situation is the result of how we’ve personally interpreted that situation. Therefore, we’re responsible for our own feelings, not the feelings of others. Put another way, we “own” our feelings. So whoever has the feeling, has the problem.
If you’re feeling miserable about something, that’s your problem, regardless of what you’re feeling miserable about. It’s up to you to resolve that problem, otherwise you’ll continue to feel miserable.
The same holds for everyone else.
There’s a way to minimize the collateral damage. Here’s how:
As she’s ranting and raving about your many faults, keep in mind that she’s talking about herself. She’s feeling miserable about something, and you just happened to be the nearest lightning rod.
She’s trying to make you responsible for her feelings. But don’t take the bait … everyone’s responsible for their own emotions.
So don’t commit the same error and let her drag you into her emotional mess! Her interpretations are her own, and your interpretations are your own.
Because she’s actually talking about herself, there’s no need for you to take her statements personally.
Rather than getting hot under the collar, a much better strategy is to read between the lines and decide what her real problem might be.
If she says, “You’re a worthless piece of crap!” that’s her way of saying, “I’m unhappy with some aspects of our relationship!”
Is that latter statement worth getting angry about? We didn’t think so. And so there’s no need to trade insults. Because you now understand that she’s only talking about herself, you’ll be able to stay cool despite pretty much any verbal provocation from her.
How To Win Firefights With a Bucket Of Water
At this point you might think that we’re suggesting you just back down and accept whatever she says to you.
That’s not what we’re saying. Instead, now you understand where her underlying feelings are coming from.
“Understand” is not the same as “agree.”
So because you understand her feelings does not mean that you have to agree with her interpretations (and therefore to also feel the same way yourself).
It’s enough that you try to see it through her eyes. Even if you don’t agree with her, at least you can imagine how she might feel that way (even if you don’t feel that way).
For example, perhaps she feels that you’re ignoring her or that you’ve treated her badly in some way. If you don’t agree with that, fine.
Now here’s the “magic phrase” for such times:
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
As before, say this with an empathetic expression and thoughtful tone. If you need to expand on that thought, you can add phrases like:
“That was not my intent” or
“I see it differently”
Say everything in a caring manner, even if you have to use every iota of skill you’ve acquired from those acting classes.
These statements avoid the resentment that comes with having been forced to apologize. You’re not apologizing to her for your own behavior. You’re merely expressing regret that she feels badly.
And that’s an honest sentiment … you do regret it that she feels badly (even if only because it might increase the amount of time you have to wait for your next horizontal mambo with her).
You’re not being forced to grovel (and resenting it). You’re providing empathy, just like the fine human being that you are.
That’s the best way we’ve found to defuse fights. When she figures out that you aren’t going to take the bait and get nasty too, she’ll change her tack and talk about what’s bothering her (rather than What’s Wrong With You).
Take our word for it: That’s a much more pleasant alternative.
Rather than fighting fire with fire and ending up with ashes (as the old proverb goes) you’ll be able to quench her fire and wind up with a snuggly bed partner instead.
Now that’s a trade we’d make any day.