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How to Break Down Tough Arguments

I stood in the shower that morning, tears running down my cheeks, trying so hard to deconstruct the argument my husband and I had just had. I still recall the mental energy that consumed me that day, and countless other times, as I tried to make sense out of all the twists and turns in our conversation.

His points seemed irrefutable, his reasoning impeccable, often leaving me with a deep hollowness inside. I remember struggling tirelessly to find the right words to unveil myself… to make myself heard.

This time, though, something felt slightly different.

As the water poured over my slumped shoulders, I noticed a quiet refusal to second-guess myself. Nor did I engage in my automatic, go-to response of justifying my feelings. In fact, I felt a faint sense of freedom beginning to blossom from deep within.

By now, I'd had a lot of experience in breaking down our misunderstandings and their confusing components. In rehashing word for word, I was able to retrieve my perspective, and re-claim the voice that been buried in another ‘un-winnable’ debate.

Fast forward two years later when my mom came to visit me. I had just entered the early stages of my divorce and was ready for a little distraction. Her treat to me was a girls’ weekend in New York City at a lavish hotel. That first morning in our hotel room, we sprawled out on our separate beds, delighting in our room-service, our coffee and our time together.

My Mom was a wonderful listener – always had been – and she listened to me with intense focus as I prattled on about the status of my divorce, reasons I'd chosen to dissolve my marriage, and concerns about my less than certain future. During a brief lull in conversation, the kind that signals a need for silence, for reflection, or for a small opportunity to gather our thoughts, she softly interrupted. ‘When did you learn to express your thoughts so clearly, so articulately?” she asked.

It was obvious that something struck her in our conversation, leading her away from the subject matter itself and compelling her to openly remark on my 'knack' for precise discernment and communication.

I pondered her inquiry, having never given such an observation before.

"I have no idea," I thought to myself. I’d never considered my communication skills to be one of my stronger suits and it stood to reason that strong communicators would not get lost in debate, nor succumb to frequent tongue twisting, nor need to clarify repeatedly. In fact, I'd never thought of myself as a particularly effective communicator.

Then, surprisingly, I was transported back to my earlier experience in the shower.

“My ex,” I blurted out, followed by a ponderous silence.

In that moment I realized the true gift I’d been inadvertently handed in all my struggles to be heard, to make sense out of non-sensical conversations. In thinking about my mom’s question, I could see how all my efforts in deconstructing arguments with my ex had taught me to think more clearly and to express myself with greater confidence and conviction.

It’s easy getting caught up in emotion and losing one’s compass in the midst of heated arguments. I did it all the time during my marriage – and subsequently, with my kids. But a silver lining eventually emerged from those discordances. As my mother pointed out, I had acquired some valuable skills in reclaiming my voice, in fine-tuning my communication, and in learning how to avoid getting trapped in the quick-sand of argumentative deliberations.

If, you too, have found yourself getting lost in difficult conversations or arguments with your spouse, a friend, a co-worker or anyone else, I’d propose the following: find a quiet place for yourself, grab a note pad, and take a few minutes to jot down some key points you remember from the disagreement. What did you say, how did he/she respond, where did the conversation start derailing, and where did you start getting lost? With a little bit of practice, you will learn to identify the pitfalls before getting sucked into the trap of losing yourself during these difficult moments.

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