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How to Avoid an Argument

In this article I’m going to share a way to avoid arguing with your partner while still being able to resolve conflicts.  It’s something I learned how to do a long time ago, and it has really served me well.  My hope is it will increase the effective communication in your relationships.

I will present two views of the same scenario and then we’ll discuss.

Scene 1:  Patty and Gary are a married couple with two children in elementary school. Patty is in the kitchen grabbing ingredients from the refrigerator when Gary comes in from work.

Patty:  Hey, Babe, could you do me a favor and take the trash out.  I’m just about to ….

Gary:  Are you kidding me?  I just walked in the door.  You can’t give me 5 minutes to sit down before you harp on me?

Patty:  It’s literally overflowing, there are boxes and wrappers on the floor.  You could have taken out the trash this morning when I asked you to.

Gary:  I told you I would do it later.  Just use your foot and push it down if it bothers you so much.  

Patty:  Are you serious?  Why can’t you just come and handle your business.

Gary:  I told you, I just walked in the door.  If you want it done so badly, do it yourself.

Patty:  Hey, I work too, you know.  And when I’m done with my job I pick up the kids from school, help them with their homework, do a load or two of laundry, and start dinner.  I am not going to do your job too.

Gary:  You have a part-time job at the library.  And if you hate making dinner so much, just skip it.  I’m not hungry anyway.

Patty:  It’s not about you, Gary. I need to feed the kids, and unlike you I want our kids to eat a healthy dinner, not pizza or cereal.

Gary:  Whatever, you do you, Patty.  I don’t give a crap.

Patty:  Don’t be an ass, just take out the damn trash.  You would have been done if you started when I asked you to.

Gary:  You want the trash taken out?  Fine.  (Gary kicks the trash can over and dumps everything out of it onto the floor).  There, the trash is empty.  Fill it with whatever you want.

Patty:  Oh my God, you’re being a child.

Gary:  Great, so I’m not even a man anymore.  I’m going out.

Patty:  Fine, leave, I don’t need you here anyway.

Gary slams the door on his way out.  Patty looks at the mess on the floor and begins to clean it up, tears flowing down her cheeks.

Scene 2: Patty and Gary are a married couple with two children in elementary school. Patty is in the kitchen grabbing ingredients from the refrigerator when Gary comes in from work.

Patty:  Hey, Babe, could you do me a favor and take the trash out.  I am just about to …

Gary:  Are you kidding me?  I just walked in the door.  You can’t give me 5 minutes to sit down before you harp on me?

Patty looks up at him.

Patty:  Gosh, did something happen today at work?

Gary:  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Just me working my ass off and the boss praising other people.

Patty puts down her dinner ingredients and walks to Gary.

Patty: That sounds very frustrating.  I know you bust your ass at that job.  

Gary:  Yes, every damn day.  Your job is so much less stressful than mine.

Patty:  I do get frustrated sometimes, but you’re right, I’m not dealing with the same kind of stress you are today.  Sit down with me for a minute.

Gary:  Don’t you have to get your dinner going?

Patty:  It’s not important right now.  Tell me what happened today.

Gary:  Well, I was asked to make a presentation to the senior vice president and I had everything ready to go.  As I was talking, Kevin from accounting jumped into my presentation and started talking like he’s the one who did the analysis and put all the figures together.  I looked over at the VP and he didn’t even notice my presentation had been hijacked.  Kevin ended up getting a lot of the credit for work he didn’t even do.

Patty:  Ugh… go on.

Gary:  So I went up to Kevin later and asked him why he inserted himself in my presentation and he said, “We were having a conversation, Gary, and I had something to offer.  Don’t make such a big deal about it.”

Patty:  It sounds like he disrespected the work you did.

Gary:  Yes, he did.

Patty:  What did you do next?

Gary:  Nothing.  I just let him walk all over me, and the rest of the day I just wanted to quit this job and go somewhere where they will appreciate me.

Patty:  Yeah I can imagine. That sounds super frustrating. Do you feel like anyone there appreciates your work?

Gary:  Well, yeah, I mean I guess so.  Bob does, he’s always grateful when I help him solve a problem.  Margaret told me the other day that she appreciates that I always get my work done quickly and accurately.  That was cool.  And our new guy told me I explain things better than any of the other guys in our group.

Patty:  Yeah, I bet.  You have a strong grasp on financial principles and they are lucky to have you.

Gary:  (chuckles a little). Damn straight they are lucky to have me.  I guess I just let Kevin get under my skin today.

Patty:  Why is that?

Gary:  If I’m being entirely honest, there were some things missing in my presentation, and Kevin did bring them to light and he was right, and I guess I felt like my boss would see I was inadequate or something or like I was losing my edge.  I guess I’m just worried Kevin will surpass me one day and get my promotion.

Patty:  Is there anything you can do about that?

Gary:  I guess just keep working hard and doing my best.  It’s all I can do.

Patty:  I agree.  Now listen, I was going to make Lemon Chicken but it’s going to take about an hour.  Would you prefer something simpler?  We could order a pizza.

Gary:  (smiling up at Patty). You know what?  A pizza with you and the kids sounds like just what I need.  You go order whatever you want on your pizza, and I’ll take out that trash.

Patty:  Even pineapple?

Gary:  (laughing) You’re killing me, woman!

Patty:  (laughing).  But it’s so good… the sweet of the pineapple mixed with the saltiness of the cheese.  It’s so perfect.

Patty and Gary have a wonderful evening with the kids and Gary even took a bite of the pineapple pizza.  The trash got taken out too.

***

Sometimes when it seems like someone is picking a fight, or attacking you, they are just hurting.  Instead of being defensive, look for the real reason they are upset.  Look for their pain and address that.  It’s not about you (most of the time).  It’s fear, frustration, powerlessness, or sadness causing them to lash out.

Love your partner enough to absorb that first missile and return it with genuine concern for their state of being.  You might find that going deep on a subject brings you closer, and it creates new avenues for expressing yourselves in the future.

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