LET’S HEAR IT FOR SILENT ARGUMENTS
I had a silent argument with my husband today.
What is that? Well, it goes something like this:
He does or says something that evokes an emotional response in me. I get angry. But instead of lashing out the way I would have twenty or thirty years ago, I think. It occurs to me that perhaps I am being unreasonable, so I stop myself and have the following conversation in my head:
Imaginary Me: (Expletive!) I wish you had consulted with me before you did that!
Imaginary Him: Well, I figured there was nothing to discuss. I only made the most obvious decision under the circumstances.
Imaginary Me: Yes, but you made the most obvious decision without consulting me!
Imaginary Him: Would you have had me do anything differently?
Imaginary Me: Well, I guess not, but I still feel bad about it.
Imaginary Him: I understand. You feel left out, is that it?
Imaginary Me: Well, yes, I did, but not anymore – Not now that we’ve discussed it.
Imaginary Him: Good! Let’s have a cup of tea!
Imaginary Me: Splendid idea.
Real Me: Honey – You want a cup of tea?
Real Him: Sure. Anything wrong?
Real Me: Not anymore, now that we’ve discussed it.
Real Him: Huh?
Real Me: Well, I just had an argument with you in my head. Would you like to hear it?
Real Him: (Looking at me strangely) Uh – Okay, I guess.
When I was studying family counseling, we were told that arguments are healthy, so long as the couple follows the rules for “fair fighting”. This includes such measures as using “I statements” as in, “I feel left out when you. . .” or “I feel angry when you. . .” etc. There is also the concept of “active listening”, as when my imaginary husband translated back to me “I understand. You feel left out, is that it?”
There are many other rules about what not to do. For example, it is not kosher to call your partner pet names, as in, “You’re a Pig!” Nor is it okay to make blanket statements like, “You always . . .” or “You never . . .” Nor is it wise to make statements like, “You’re trying to make me feel bad!” or “You’re just jealous”. Anger tends to escalate when you tell people what they’re thinking or feeling.
There are also ways to make sure you don’t start a fight at a bad time, but I always thought it was a little odd to say something like, “I need to make an appointment for a ‘haircut’” (This was code for, “I have a gripe and I need to find out when you will make yourself available to talk about it”). Seems to me that by the time the discussion rolls around (if your partner is willing to make such an appointment) you’re way past the moment. (Having said that, I have heard that some people are able to put off their arguments successfully in this fashion. This amazes me.)
Somehow I don’t recall ever running across any mention of having silent arguments. It seems to me not a bad idea, though. Saves a lot of grief and takes us to the same place, in the end.
© 2004, Robin Munson