Jun 28 2009

The Argument that Just Won’t Die

Published by at 10:34 am under Favorite Posts,Relationship Advice

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In preparing for the June 30, 2009 radio show about “The Argument that Just Won’t Die.” I made a list conditions that allow arguments to persist, and a summary of solutions to address each condition.

I’d love to have your feedback and additional thinking on these.  Note, I am not trying to classify what people are arguing about (guns, abortion, religion, taking out the garbage), but what’s occurring such that the argument is perpetuating.

Any one argument may have multiple conditions. Further, different conditions for a single argument may apply for different individuals (e.g., conditions A and B may be relevant for one person, while conditions B and D are relevant for her partner).

Often simple awareness is curative. If you and your partner choose a perpetual argument to dissolve, and then each clearly communicate where you experience yourself in this list, that may solve half, if not all, of the problem.

Conditions that Allow Your Argument to Perpetuate




Not Being Heard

One (or both) of us does not feel heard (or “gotten”) or is not being responsible for being heard.

Conduct a mindful dialogue until both of you feel fully heard and validated for your point of view.

Stuck on a Position

One (or both) of us is unwilling to let go of our

Let go. Be generous.

Blast from the Past

Something about the argument triggers something from the past which has not

been identified.

The person who is irrationally upset (i.e., more upset than the specific event seems to warrant), must identify the past event that is being triggered, fully communicate the linkage between the argument and the upset, and own her piece of the energy of the argument.


The source of the argument is rooted in some trauma from one of our pasts (e.g., if one of you was abused as a child and something about the argument triggers that trauma).

It’s one thing if the argument triggers something relatively minor but significant (Blast from the Past, above); it’s another thing if the argument triggers a large trauma. In this case, the traumatized person may want to see a psychoanalyst (with or without her partner).


One or both of our emotional bank accounts is so empty that the smallest argument seems larger than the relationship.

This is best resolved by expressing love, providing acknowledgment, remembering why you got together in the first place and practicing being grateful.


My partner and I want different things and have not been able to compromise.

Most of the time this is not the issue. If you both feel heard, if you’re not triggered from the past, if you emotional bank account is not overdrawn, you can typically come to a reasonable compromise. Otherwise, find an independent third party (therapist, relationship coach) to help you negotiate.

Cleaning Up

One of us has offended the other and has not apologized / repented / made amends, and/or one of us has not forgiven the other.

The offender must find out what she needs to do to be forgiven and the person offended must forgive.

Rather Be Right than Happy

One or both of us would prefer to argue and/or be “right” and/or is more committed to the ego/racket/pain body than to a resolution.

Recognize that this is what you are doing and stop it – before your partner does. Observe your ego at work – which would rather be right than happy. When one party stops fueling the argument, it will soon die out.


One of us is not getting our needs or standards met.

Communicate that need clearly to your partner and make a clean request.


One of us is crazy, an addict, or someone who has generally unacceptable behavior (e.g., gets violently angry; behaves like a juvenile, etc.).

Until the unstable person is stabilized (e.g., by doing a course in therapy, by getting into a 12-step program, etc.), the argument is not likely to be resolved. Until then, it’s best to just avoid the argument.

If you have an argument that does not fit into one of these categories, I’d love to hear about it!

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “The Argument that Just Won’t Die”

  1. Diana Daffneron 30 Jun 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I find that many couples have a long-standing but often un-verbalized argument about sex, with the person who has the least interest usually winning. Which means, of course, that both lose. Of course sex is not the answer (“Sex is the Question. YES is the answer!”) Underneath much of the ‘not being heard, not having needs met” kind of struggle that couples deal with, is often an undercurrent of longing for meaningful and intimate connection. It is easier to negotiate and compromise in areas where preferences differ when the relationship is deeply nourished with frequent and heartfelt lovemaking.

  2. Billon 30 Jun 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Diana – I love that – “sex is the question; yes is the answer.” And I agree completely – when my emotional bank account is full, and sex (with intimacy) is happening, I can be pretty darn accommodating! :)

  3. Diana Daffneron 01 Jul 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Bill, I can’t take credit for the quote,
    “Sex is NOT the answer.
    Sex is the question.
    YES is the answer.”

    I saw it on a T-shirt and quoted it in my book, as by “Anonymous.” Maybe the original author will now identify herself! Or maybe it’s the kind of true sentiment that various people have come up with at different times.

    And yes, it’s sure easier to choose being happy over being right when our emotional bank accounts are full and our sex life is intimate and fulfilling.

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