How To Prevent Dead-End Arguments With Your Partner

Written by Dr. Peter Pearson

Have you ever been in a disagreement with your partner that went nowhere fast? And you know you're on the slippery slope leading to cold shoulders, cold dinners and tension thick as grits?

Today is your lucky day. If you practice asking two questions as the dialogue heats up, you can break the logjam, get back on track, and avoid those dead-end arguments. Often one person can unilaterally alter the course of an argument. It only takes a genuine desire to learn something about yourself.

The first question to ask your partner in a bad discussion is, "What am I doing that is unproductive right now in this conversation?"

Now before you think I'm asking you to bring a rope to your own hanging, there are several reasons why this is one powerful intervention.

In a bad discussion, you both are saying damaging things. Finger-pointing triggers even more finger-pointing. The race is now on for who can be the biggest or loudest accuser.

Asking what you're doing that is not constructive will catch your mate off guard. Instead of having to fight to prove his case, you are actually asking him to think a little bit about what's going on.

Frankly, your question gets your partner to stop blurting out nonthinking, reactive, disconnected, emotionally charged accusations. Your partner will shift gears to another part of his brain — the part that will assess what's happening and why it has gone awry. Because you've asked for this information, your partner can relax a little instead of continuing the attack.

On some level, your partner will be grateful that you're interested in changing the course of the argument.

You've slowed the blaming juggernaut. But there's still another question you can ask that really keeps the discussion going more smoothly.

The second question you can ask is, "What can I do that would be more constructive right now?"

This is a great question to keep things on track, which goes a long way toward resolving any argument amicably. These two questions can help you stay on track if you ask them with the appropriate voice tone, facial expression and body posture.

Then, if you want to be a hero, see if this extra question fits. Ask, "Why is my doing that important to you?" My guess is that you'll often be surprised by the responses you get.

The other day, my wife Ellyn and I had a tense discussion. About 30 minutes later I decided I would ask her what I'd done during the discussion that wasn't very effective. My more usual mode is to analyze what she does, then tell her so she can respond better. Even though that approach is nearly guaranteed to fail, I'm unbelievably optimistic that somehow it will always work better next time.

Her response surprised me. She said she really didn't have time to have the discussion then and was annoyed that I kept it going. Being more constructive would have meant simply taking a time out. That was the last thing I would have guessed. I would have saved both of us some stress if I had my wits about me to ask it during the disagreement.

So — are you willing to experiment using these questions to save yourself some serious stress and be a hero? Just in case you think these questions aren't powerful, reflect on what your reaction would be if your mate stopped in the middle of an argument and asked you these two questions.

Try these questions, and share your experience with other readers who are trying to improve their relationships. Comment with your observations on how these questions can help you in the midst of a fight.

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