A contentious speech act; a dispute where there is strong disagreement

Present reasons and arguments

“I am right and you are wrong and if you can’t see that you must be more stupid than I thought”

We all argue from time to time; sometimes about important issues, sometimes about trivial things. More often than not, it’s with our partners, or our parents, and occasionally with friends and work colleagues.

Arguments can start at any time, for any reason, and normally involve the raising of voices. If severe enough, they may perhaps lead to physical violence, but must always contain at least two parties, and always involve a head to head battle – much like a boxing ring, where you have opponent one vs. opponent two, and the aim of the “match” is for one opponent to win, by subduing the other. The stakes are continually raised, with each opponent adding ammunition to their arsenal by using hurtful, cruel, or detrimental comments to make the other back down.

Listen to this example conversation and see if you recognise it.

Mum: Why don’t you ever clean your room? It’s disgusting, I can’t believe you never clean it, I do everything for you, you’re so lazy, all I ask is that you clean your room once in a while.

Child: You’re so unfair mum. I’m busy with school work, I don’t have time to do it, and anyway, what do you do during the day? Nothing. All you do is sit here, while dad’s at work earning money.

Mum: What? You ungrateful girl. I brought you into this world. I look after you, I feed you, I clothe you, I house you…

Child: No you don’t! Dad pays for everything; and anyway, I didn’t ask to be born, just leave me alone.

Mum: You wait till your dad hears about this! You are grounded for a week; no going out for you after school. You will come home and do your homework straight away.

Child: (now crying with anger) Why? You can’t make me, I won’t do it, you can’t make me!

Mum: (determined) I can, and I will, and if you keep on like that you’ll get no dinner tonight either. Child: Fine, I don’t want dinner! In fact, I don’t ever want to see you again, I hate you!

Mum: Don’t speak to me like that.

Child: I’ll speak to you any way I want, I hate you.

Result: Mum slams the door and leaves the child crying, whilst she goes into the living room trembling with rage, and starts crying herself.

Extreme example, or not?

Arguments can be about many things, as we have said already. Just this morning my girlfriend started an argument with me about something so trivial it isn’t worth mentioning, but it is!

Her: Why do you always brush your teeth before breakfast?

Me: Because it makes my mouth feel fresh.

Her: It’s a total waste of time, it doesn’t work; you should always brush your teeth after breakfast.

Me: Why, what’s it got to do with you, I’m 36 years old; if I want to brush my teeth before breakfast I can.

Her: Ok, I was just saying it’s stupid, but every time I want to sit down with you at breakfast you’re always doing something else. I can’t stand it. Why don’t you just sit down and eat breakfast with me? It’s the one time we can spend together during the day.

Me: What’s brushing my teeth got to do with spending time with you? Can’t I just have a moment of peace in the morning without you going on all the time?

Her: I’m not going on all the time, it’s just you’re so selfish.

Me: Selfish, who’s selfish? It’s you who’s the selfish one, because you won’t let me enjoy my breakfast in peace.

Her: Silence

Result: Both leave in the morning without resolving the argument, with both parties now not speaking to each other. Lots of negative thinking about the other person during the day.

What was the argument really about? Teeth brushing? Breakfast? Selfishness? It doesn’t really matter. What matters, is we both failed to notice how the argument was escalating (increase in extent or intensity). You see, arguments start out over something trivial; but as both parties are engaged in head to head combat with only words as their weapons, they have to resort to other strategies, especially if they feel as if they are losing. That is when the personal attacks start. From slight insults to full on personality assaults. Opponents will use anything at their disposal to win the argument. Why? Because we all want to win. We all think we are in the right, and won’t give in. The original topic of the argument is rarely the last. In the previous example, we have gone from teeth brushing to selfishness in less than one minute.

We have actually used other things that annoy us about the other to win the argument, resulting in hurt feelings on both sides. Arguments are destructive, whatever the topic. In the end, there can never be a winner, as someone always has to lose. More often than not, they are started as a result of frustration (the feeling that accompanies an experience of being thwarted in attaining your goals), where you wish to do (or wish another to do) something, and someone else goes against you. We become upset at their refusal to comply, and begin to feel angry. We can’t understand why they would go against us, as we are clearly in the right!

If we look at this carefully, we will see that it doesn’t matter who is in the right; it becomes a battle of words, with the sole objective of winning. But no one will ever truly win. All that the argument achieves is the loser (the person who has been beaten into submission) feels not only bad about themselves, but also likes the winner a little less.

Arguments are pointless

Once we can see that arguments are pointless, we can start to move on.

Some people say that arguing is good for us, that it releases “bad energy,” or “clears the air; ” but when two people each want to get their point across, an argument won’t solve it. You may as well put them in a boxing ring; because they are fighting, but using words instead of fists. In a fist fight the winner is the one who knocks his opponent down; the same applies with a verbal argument. Someone always gets hurt.

Arguments can never be constructive; otherwise they would be called a discussion. It is two ideas, two thoughts, battling head to head in all out war, until one idea is the conqueror. This could be between a couple arguing about whose turn it is to do the washing up, or a scientist and a priest arguing about whether man evolved, or was created. They do not want to hear the other person’s side, they just want to win.

By interacting with the other person on the same level (i.e. shouting) all we are doing is creating more tension. It may feel like a release, but it can also be damaging to a relationship of any kind.

I prefer to think of an argument as a loss of control, where we “say things we don’t really mean.” Although what has usually happened, is a break down in communication, and over time, small things that annoyed us have gradually built up, until we can no longer store up these feelings and let loose with all guns blazing! That is why seemingly irrelevant things are brought up during an argument.

If we deal with small issues every day in the form of a discussion, where one party is actively listening to the other without interruption, it allows the person to vent in a non-destructive way, and does not seek to attack and counter-attack. Resolution comes about in a much swifter, and altogether more satisfactory manner for the benefit of both parties.


Activity that frees or expresses creative energy or emotion

Think of venting as a way to express how you feel without engaging the other person. A way of letting yourself say what needs to be said; but the energy is directed over the head of the other person, not directly at them. You are letting someone know have an important point to make, but you don’t want them to respond. You just want to let them know how you feel. It doesn’t have to be with raised voices either. You are more likely to get someone to listen to you with a normal tone.

When you have finished, allow the other person to vent, and actively listen. Do not interrupt, do not justify, criticize, or offer solutions. Just listen. It’s that simple.

On the other hand, you have to begin to notice what makes you angry all the time. Why do you always want to argue?

Start to notice yourself in the moment when you enter an argument, and notice how you feel, and what you are thinking. Stop and ask yourself, “How important is this to me?” and “why is it important?”

The key to stopping arguments is listening. The reason most arguments start is one person feeling aggrieved, or wounded by a perceived attack on them, and instantly retaliating. The end result is the same as in all physical attacks.

There will be casualties. No one can ever win an argument Don’t bother starting them.


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