One of the biggest sources of unhappiness in our lives is the arguments we have with our friends and loved ones. In fact, for many people, the major source of stress in their lives is the arguments they have with friends and loved ones.
Remember your last argument: You were in the middle of a calm, possibly even enjoyable conversation, when suddenly, and from out of nowhere, something happened. You don’t know what precipitated it, but without warning you found yourself upset, wondering why the other person said and did things that were so hurtful. And before you knew it, you were screaming at each other!
These arguments happen regularly in even the best of relationships. They not only often leave us upset for the rest of the day, even more importantly, they often undermine the trust and intimacy that you’ve built in your relationship.
Many people will tell you that arguments are inevitable. They are inherent in the very nature of close relationships. As a result there are thousands of books, articles, courses, and You Tube videos that tell you how to deal with them more effectively once they get started.
I’m going to show you how to stop having arguments
I disagree that arguments are inevitable. I contend that it is possible to stop having arguments—and I don’t mean suppressing your upsets or avoiding conflict.
I’ve written many times about how we give meaning to meaningless events and how to stop attributing meaning. (https://www.mortylefkoe.com/important-improve-life/) I contend that virtually all arguments are the result of giving meaning and that, if we did not give meaning to what our partner or friend did or said, there would be no argument.
I’ll describe how I used to argue with my daughter Brittany to illustrate my point.
How I learned to stop arguing
From the time she was born, I had always had a very close relationship with Brittany. She would tell me what she was thinking and feeling quite often. I usually visited Brittany after she came home from school and asked her how her day went and we had a nice chat. When she reached 13-14 years old, she changed. I joke that she was captured by aliens who left one of their own in her place, because my daughter couldn’t not possibly have acted the way my daughter acted between the ages of 13 and 18-19! (In fact this is a natural part of a child’s development.)
At any rate, by the time she was a freshman in high school she had started getting angry at me frequently, telling me I was annoying (and worse), saying she didn’t feel like talking, and asking me to leave her room.
I usually responded with something like: “Why are you angry with me? What did I do?” Those questions usually led to Brittany getting even more annoyed and her yelling at me to get out of her room. My response to her yelling usually led to an argument that left both of us upset.
What prompted me to say things to her that led to the arguments? The meaning I was giving her behavior: She was ruining our relationship (which was very important to me); she was angry with me; I couldn’t talk to her any more; etc. I didn’t like those meanings, so I tried to say something that would change the situation. My attempts to defend myself or change Brittany inevitably led to an argument.
At some point I started to ask myself, what else could her behavior mean? Several possible answers included: She was individuating, as she should be doing. She had a problem that day with one of her teachers. Her hormones were raging. She had some difficulties with friends during the day. Etc. Did I ever “see” that something fundamental had happened to “ruin” our relationship? That I wouldn’t ever be able to talk to her the way we had in the past? No, I didn’t see that. I only saw her behavior, which could have many different meanings other than the one I had given it.
In other words, I realized that her behavior didn’t inherently mean what I thought it meant. I realized that I was attributing those meaning to her behavior. I realized her behavior didn’t have any inherent meaning.
I tried something different
So one day, as a result of doing the type of thinking I just described, I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t respond to her accusations. I didn’t get upset. I merely got up and left the room without saying a word. And after I left the room and closed her door, I said: “Honey, I hear a daughter who loves her dad very much and who’s probably having a hard day. Sorry about that. I love you too sweetheart.”
As I walked away I heard a shoe bounce off the door. Ten minutes later she came out of her room, threw her arms around me, kissed me, and apologized for being shitty.
She got annoyed at me and yelled at me and kicked me out of her room many times over the next 4-5 years, but for the most part I no longer reacted to what she said and did. I was clear that it had no meaning. As a result of my not reacting, the arguments stopped. And because we stopped arguing, we formed an even closer bond between us. She knew I loved her unconditionally and would always be there for her because I didn’t argue with her (which is usually interpreted as withdrawing your love) when she get annoyed with me or yelled at me.
I no longer argue with anyone
For the last couple of years I’ve been able to do this with my wife, Shelly, and almost everyone else I deal with. By not giving anything they say or do any meaning, I don’t get upset. And because I don’t get upset, there are no arguments.
Try it and enjoy the results
Remember, events have no inherent meaning, so nothing your loved one (or anyone else) does can upset you or make you angry. What produces the upset or anger is the meaning you make up to explain why the other person did what they did. (See my TEDx talk for more details on how this works, along with an exercise showing you how to use the Lefkoe Freedom Process to stop giving meaning to events. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMdVM-t5kFs)
For example, if your partner doesn’t do something you asked her to do and then you give the event the meaning that you can’t get what you want, you will get angry. If you give the event the meaning that your partner doesn’t care about what you want, you will be hurt or upset. If you say that you could give your partner’s behavior many different meanings but, in fact, it has no inherent meaning, you will feel nothing. You probably will just calmly do it yourself or ask your partner again if she will do it.
Imagine no longer arguing with your friends, family, and other loved ones. … I know, that’s hard to imagine. But try anyway. … Just imagine situations that used to lead to arguments, and pretend there are no more arguments. … Feels good, doesn’t it? It’s a goal worth striving for, isn’t it?
The next time you are in a situation where someone says or does something that upsets you, ask yourself what meaning you are giving their behavior or comments that is producing the upset. As soon as you realize you made up the meaning, that it is not inherent in the events, it will dissolve.
It probably will take some practice to stop giving meaning to someone else’s behavior, but when you do, arguments will become a thing of the past. Relationships will improve dramatically. And the quality of your life will skyrocket.
A PERSONAL NOTE TO MY READERS:
I cannot thank you enough for the hundreds of messages of love and support. And I know that many of you who haven’t written have been sending me love and support also.
Thanks for loving me. I love you too.
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