How to quit arguing over dumb shit
Ever get frustrated because it feels like you keep going around and around the same shit with people or even just yourself? Does it feel unsolvable at times and you’re doomed to this bullshit hamster wheel that you’re soooooo over?
Listen, you first need to know that research shows we all have 3-5 “gremlins” in our relationships that are likely to be lifelong BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be deal breakers (e.g., you’re a saver and she’s a spender/ you’re an introvert and he’s an extrovert/ you love wild and crazy sex as many times a week as possible and they’re ok with pretty vanilla sex once a week or so …ok, the sex thing might be a deal breaker if there’s no room for discussion, just sayin’).
It’s all about HOW you handle WHAT gets you all clenchy or pissy etc.
In therapy, coaching, and ANY peopling, we say PROCESS OVER CONTENT. Always.
WHY PROCESS MATTERS
Whether you realize it or not, you can often swap out the WHAT a couple (or perfect strangers) are arguing over with different topics and it will often go down in the exact same or similar pattern.
Think about it, whether you’re talking to your partner about the kids, your job, finances, your mother-in-law, sex… and sometimes all of the above in the same argument because humans have a terrible habit of jumping from one thing to another as they seek to be right about something… you end up in a very rehearsed routine and seldom does anything real get solved.
Because we all have vulnerable spots, and we all have ingrained patterns of dealing with them.
Some common pitfalls include getting defensive, making assumptions/ jumping to conclusions, being critical, stonewalling/ going silent/ giving the cold shoulder treatment, giving them “your resume” aka all the things that you’ve done right or all the points you can think of that make you right, switching topics and even simply tending to acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the conflict to name just a few.
Here’s what you need to know to stop the frustration:
Content: WHAT you are talking about (the topic and any he said/ she said etc.)
Process: HOW a couple is talking to each other and any underlying feelings (determines whether our conversations either break down or go more smoothly and, hopefully provide a little deeper insight into the issue at hand).
We’re groomed to focus on content. It makes up the vast majority of our day. Think about watercooler or cocktail conversation. The gossip and the “How are you?” ‘s that you answer with perfunctories without really getting vulnerable.
And sometimes, that can be a great thing (Lord knows you don’t have time to process every single piece of info or interaction in your day, nor is everyone safe to do it with!). BUT, with those you love or care about or want to do business with, it’s so incredibly important that you are able to PROCESS.
Spoiler alert: it takes practice. The more you do it though, the easier it gets, I promise!
What Processing Requires:
1) That you are able to remain calm or bring yourself back to calm. Take a time out if you need it but be sure to tell your partner when you think you’ll be back to try again.
2) That you can look within to see what you’re feeling … note, you don’t have to necessarily know why, just identify and name out loud the physical sensations or emotions running through you (e.g., “My chest is tight right now. I’m feeling a bit defensive.)
3) That you try to walk yourself back through the situation to what he or she said or did that triggered it without attack (e.g., “I think when I heard you say _____, it sounded like my ex/ father/ mother/ asshole boss and my subconscious freaked out a little). If you can’t find the moment, don’t worry about it just yet. What’s most important for you and your partner to know is how you’re feeling. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily their fault, but it does mean that there’s a soft spot here that needs attending.
4) That you own your feelings and reactions without additional judgment of yourself or them (e.g., “My brain is telling me that you don’t want to help me/ that you want her more than me/ that you think I’m stupid or ugly/ that I’m always going to be alone”). Notice the use of language – it’s not that you REALLY believe these things, just that your thinking mind is saying them. Remind your partner of this. You can then add something like, “And because my brain still thinks this, I get anxious or defensive when you do/ say ______).
5) That you are able to hear your partner out. Allow them to respond to your insight and try to remain calm. It’s normal for them to feel defensive, especially at first. It’s super common here for partners to slip back into he said/ she said mode, which is going back into content land. Remind them that it’s not about that; it’s about you growing closer together by trying a different way. Have them reiterate or better clarify their intention in their statement or behavior. Ask them how they’re feeling about it now.
6) That you can remember it’s about the two (or more) of you growing closer together, attacking the problem as a team NOT the two of you on opposite sides with the problem between you. At the end of the day, what we want is to feel seen, heard, accepted and even celebrated. Everything else is secondary.
BONUS CUT TO THE QUICK OF IT QUESTION: What can I do to help make this better right now?
If you’ve done all of the above and are still stuck, OR you’d just like a shortcut to get back to feeling less awkward between you, I highly recommend asking, “What can I do to help make this better right now? Perhaps some space, or reassurance that everything’s ok or that you’ll work it out.
If they are still a little stabby and respond with something like “I don’t know,” reassure them that you are open to whatever they might want to try later on.
One more thing…
Ideally in order for this to work well, it takes BOTH/ ALL parties being committed to growth and being open to exploring themselves and owning it… and statistics show less than a third are naturally decent at this or open to practicing… HOWEVER, even IF you’re dealing with someone who isn’t, by YOU focusing and using process over content, you will remain and bring increased clarity, peace, and solutions to every situation.
Don’t give up! Love is so so worth it.
- “The Self-Centered Marriage: The Revolutionary ScreamFree Approach to Rebuilding Your “We” by Reclaiming Your “I” by Hal Runkel, LMFT
- “The Four Agreements: a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills
- “A Mind at Home with Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Turn Your World Around” by Byron Katie
- The Skin Deep – questions designed to heal and deepen intimacy
About the Author:
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and transformation coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
Her work is specialized to help individuals break free from toxic cycles of distress, dysfunction, and dissatisfaction with life that are created when trying to live according to someone else’s rules. Only by living what she calls radical autonomy, can one obtain soul nourishing relationships and a sense of true life purpose and inner peace.