The Sake of Argument

You can see a lot of love and care in how someone argues with you.

Let’s say you just had a birthday, and your significant other didn’t do anything for it. Maybe they forgot entirely; maybe they just didn’t think birthdays are a big deal. Not important. So you approach your significant other and say, “Hey, my birthday came and went without you really acknowledging it, and that made me feel upset and neglected.”

Now, let’s say your significant other doesn’t take this well, and it starts an argument. They go immediately into “fight mode” and emotions get hot. Surely not ideal; you’d rather they respond in a calm way, but hey – we’re humans. That doesn’t always happen. But even so, HOW the heated argument begins can tell you a lot. Consider these two potential responses:

A: “Well, you forgot to celebrate my work anniversary earlier this year, and that really meant a lot to me because it represented an actual accomplishment, and you didn’t even acknowledge it. So you’re the jerk here, not me.”

B: “I did so acknowledge it! I made you your favorite dinner and then I did the dishes myself, even though we always do I cook/you clean. I didn’t get you balloons and a cake because I didn’t realize you’re a child, but that’s not the same as me ignoring it.”

These are both argumentative responses, obviously. And some people might look at them and not see much difference. But honestly, I see a world of difference between the two, and I’d always rather be on the receiving end of “B.”

Why? In the “A” response, the other person is immediately dismissive of my reason for being upset. They don’t even hear it. The just immediately launch into a separate thing that I’ve done that was worse. That’s a terrible way to bridge a gap. That’s what a negative emotion is – a gap between two people. Responding like “A” is aiming a north pole of a magnet at another north pole of a magnet: it pushes them away from one another. That line of argument just leads to a game of one-upsmanship where you’re each trying to call the other person a bigger and bigger jerk so you can be the one to justifiably be mad. It doesn’t show respect for the other person or their concerns.

Now, look at “B.” Yes, it’s argumentative. But at least the argument implicitly respects the other person’s concerns as valid. “A” says “I perfectly admit that I did the bad thing, but I don’t apologize or care.” “B” says “I agree that you’d be right to be upset if I did that thing; that’s a valid concern and a valid emotion to feel about it. Rather, I dispute the facts of the specific case.” There’s a line there that leads to closing the gap and bonding rather than pushing away.

If you’re holding old slights to use as fodder for “A”-style arguments, I encourage you to resolve them independently. Either let them go (if they’re minor) or talk them out (if they’re not). But don’t sit on them until the next time you make a mistake (which we all, all, ALL do). Because when someone you care about comes to you with a pain in their heart, you want yours to be clear, so you can really hear them. Sometimes things may get heated or emotional, but let that heat and that emotion come from a place of love, from pulling together and working on things, rather than having it be ammunition. We’re only human.

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