Smart people often have dumb arguments about unimportant things, says our relationship expert. She shares her tips for sidestepping them.
"There are two sides to every argument, until you take one," said Milton Berle. Whether you know it or not, smart people have dumb arguments about unimportant things. Rather than continuing to allow such arguments to stress us out and poke holes in our relationship, we can become "conflict-wise" by learning to recognize and sidestep them.
The Just-the-Facts Argument
A while ago, for instance, my husband and I were driving to a 99¢ store to buy some party supplies. I mentioned, "You know, a lot of these so-called 99¢ stores charge more than 99¢ for many of the items they sell."
"Not possible," he said. "All 99¢ stores sell everything at that price. That's why they're called 99¢ stores."
"That's not true. You don't know because you haven't been to one. The 99¢ thing is just a way to get more people into the store," I explained.
"Why would they call it a 99¢ store if it's not one?" he shot back, still trying to convince me.
"Wait a minute," I blurted out. "This is a dumb argument about a fact. Why don't we just hold on for 10 minutes, get to the store, and we'll have our answer?" He agreed, so we shut our mouths and found the answer in the store. (I was right!).
We were having a dumb factual argument—exactly the kind of worthless, energy-draining fight I discuss with my clients. The topic could be anything from the name of a restaurant to a random statistic, but the wise response to this type of conflict is to pause and say, "We're having a dumb argument, let's stop fighting and check the fact on the Internet, or call a friend."
The Post-Argument Argument
Now that sounds like common sense, right? But if it's so easy to be sensible in the moment, then I suggest you consider whether you've been involved in another type of dumb argument: the post-argument argument. This happens when you've gotten what you want but then you have just one more thing to say...and so the fight starts all over again.
How come we can't just quit while we're ahead? From my perspective as a mediator, the post-argument argument happens because the one word "okay" isn't good enough for most people. Why? Because, we are driven to win an even greater victory, something more than our mate's agreement. We want that person to admit that we were 100 percent right from the start. When we become aware that we are heading down that destructive path, it's time to close our mouths and leave well enough alone. Anything else is downright, well, dumb.
The Why-Are-We-Arguing-Now? Argument
If the above-described arguments (the factual and post-argument types) sound familiar to you, this third one might too: the dumb, premature argument. An example of this might be fighting over whether to buy a ranch or colonial style house when you move out of your apartment...in three years, when your child hits kindergarten age.
If an argument revolves around something that can't be acted upon for a long time, it's premature because facts, preferences, and circumstances will change over time. As a result, your opinion will most likely be altered by the time the decision becomes imminent. If you're arguing about something that doesn't need an immediate decision, short-circuit the fight by saying, "Why don't we wait to have this discussion until we actually need to?"
Why do we lose our common sense from time to time? Because we are human, and emotion will overtake our logic, if we let it. Hereafter, to avoid dumb arguments, take charge, engage your brain, identify the type of dumb argument you're having, and button your lip. Most likely, you will have a good laugh instead of a bad argument.