Saturday, July 4, 2015

Never Start a Sentence With.... (Argument Starters)

Certain phrases are guaranteed to start an argument, every time.

In a previous posting, I mentioned three phrases which you should never use to start a sentence, unless you intend to start an argument with someone (usually your spouse).  These are phrases that immediately put the other party on the defensive, and thus force them to defend themselves in view of what amounts to be an accusation.  A huge argument is sure to ensue.  The only possible upside is make-up sex.

What are these phrases and why are they so toxic?   Well here are a few, and maybe you know a few more.  If so, let me know.

You Always - As I noted in an earlier post, when you start a sentence with "You always...." a fight will ensue.  "You always leave the toilet seat up!" you say.  The spouse will then respond with, "No I don't, in February of 2007, I put it down" (raising evidence to refute your absolute statement).   A civil discussion has devolved into a court case.

You Never - is the same deal, but in reverse.  "You never put the seat back down!"  The problem with both statements is that they are absolutist statements.   A better way to make the same argument would be to say, "Could you please remember to put the seat down?" as it isn't gasoline on the fire.   Of course, I use this argument as an exemplar only.  The real solution is to look before you sit, not blame your spouse (externalizing) for your own shortcomings.  Right?

You Said - is one way to start the court-case of argument going.   Each person starts dredging up stuff the "other person said" as if this was a murder trial and their inconsistent testimony was going to incriminate them.  If this isn't what starts an argument, it surely is one way to keep the fires stoked.  Calling up statements from the past is never a way to resolve things.  A relationship is not a trial or a contract to be interpreted under the law (with you as the Judge).  If you catch yourself saying this, just stop.

Ever Since - is another one.  "Ever since your Dad died, you haven't been the same person!"   How can one respond to that sort of accusation?  Again, it is an absolutist statement that cannot be responded to, other than to acquiesce to the accusation, or to mount a defense to the charges.

I Already Told You - is a phrase you hear older harridan wives shouting at their nearly deaf husbands, or husbands going through the first stages of dementia (or it could be wives, too, of course).   This is a particularly cruel saying, as in the time it takes to say, "I already told you!" in a scolding manner, you could have just repeated the information.

And yet I see this all the time here on retirement island.  A spouse who is going deaf or losing his attention span asks someone to repeat themselves, and they respond with "nevermind!" or "I already told you!" which is another way of saying, "you're not important enough for me to repeat myself!"

Frankly, I am not sure why people think this is helpful, but I see it all the time, folks screaming at dementia patients, as if you could scold them into wellness.  "It's Tuesday!  You already asked me three times!  Listen up!"   It is not a good strategy.

Of course, there are other situations where this phrase is used.  For example, when you mumble something (while facing away or in another room) and someone doesn't hear you.  They ask for the same information and you say, "Nevermind!" or "I already told you!" - it really isn't helping matters any.

It is funny how our brains are programmed, however.   We all do these sorts of things without thinking much about what we are saying or why.   To some extent, it is laziness or emotional thinking.  Or, we are simply tired and tend to snap at people we love.

One way to short-circuit this tendency, though, is to catch yourself (or others) when they throw these argument-starters out there.   It could save a lot of time and grief.