Stop, Drop, and Roll

By Mark E. Smith

The major arguments that my wife and I have had, fortunately, have been few and far between. Neither of us is emotionally cut out for the type of drag-out fights that some couples routinely engage in. What we’ve learned from the major arguments we’ve had is that they left us both feeling sad and emotionally bruised – not a dynamic we wish in our marriage.

Among the reasons why our arguments were so emotionally bruising was much because of my behavior. I always ended up storming out the door with such a comment as, “You clearly married the wrong guy….”

My wife finally expressed during a nonconfrontational time that my “going to the end” during arguments scared and hurt her.

I laid on the couch one eve and questioned my own poor behavior. I did “go to the end” in hurtful ways. But, I didn’t mean to – it just happened. So, why did I do it?

I realized that rather than be in control of my emotions during those types of arguments, I was operating on emotional autopilot. See, when I was growing up, my parents routinely fought and the arguments always ended in one of them leaving, either temporarily, for long periods, or divorce (three marriages, in my mother’s case). It was scary and unsettling to me as a child, but worst of all, it ingrained in me that that’s how arguments work – that is, they go to the end.

I shared this realization with my wife and expressed that while I couldn’t promise perfection, should an argument arise, I would try my best to be aware of my response and not “go to the end.”

Fortunately for both of us and our marriage, I have stopped going to the end. What I’ve learned in this process, as I’ve done at several points throughout my adulthood, is that no matter our scars, we don’t have to live and operate on emotional autopilot. If our behavior is hurting ourselves and others, we can stop, assess, and grow. It’s really hard to do – I know, especially when behaviors, reactions, and emotions are so engrained in us. But, the rewards of having the introspection – and dare I say, courage – to question our own actions can be profoundly life changing.

When we were children, many of us were taught the key to fire safety: stop, drop, and roll. As adults, for our emotional health, maybe we need to establish a similar reaction: stop, assess, and grow.

Arguing Against Arguing

By Mark E. Smith

Have you ever argued with your spouse or partner, maybe someone not so close, maybe even a stranger in public? Did you ever stop to truly consider what the arguments became about?

I have done all of the above, and while there’s no argument I’m proud of – they all left me feeling ashamed of my own behavior – I deeply value what I’ve learned from such taxing experiences.

See, while arguments always start out with a causation, even if it’s unwarranted or irrational, they quickly spiral to the singular intention of both people trying to simply prove that they are right and the other is wrong. You’re likely thinking, Mark, that’s the very definition of an argument – duh!

Actually, no. The definition of an argument is persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong. What we tend to do, however, is devolve that intention away from the original topic and it becomes I’m right, you’re wrong, period, by both people and the original topic is lost. Put simply, arguments typically shift from that to you.

A lot of us can relate to this by thinking back to an argument where we genuinely forgot what started the argument – but we were furious at the other person, no less. We may chuckle about it later in realizing the absurdity, but it’s hard to stop the slippery slope when we’re on it – in an argument, that is.

The key is to recognize the nature of it all – and strive to avoid the pitfalls. The fact is, if we follow the course of a typical argument, both people are simply wrong in the end. No one wins; everyone loses. A solution becomes impossible, destruction assured.

This isn’t saying that there’s no place for disagreement or that relationships and interactions with others are always harmonious. Of course disagreements arise in our lives. However, let us address them in constructive ways rather than engaging in the destructive. Let us solve problems rather than escalating them. Let us not fall into the trap of arguing, but into the humility of discussing.

If we know this universal truth – that there’s an intrinsic nature of arguments devolving to a damaging degree, and avoiding it – we’re not just closer to actually solving the true issue at hand, but, more importantly, preserving the dignity of all. Maybe we all should argue against arguing.