I recently saw a number of posts that talk about the inability of men to win an argument with a woman. Most were pretty disparaging of women. Some of these articles were funny and written with humor, however most implied somehow that women are overbearing, impossible to deal with, illogical, and unrealistic.
Some stated that women ‘speak nonsense’ and ‘repeat themselves’. They also made points such as ‘women base their arguments on emotionality only.’ Several discussed specific techniques that women use for manipulation.
I even found a post on tips for winning arguments with women. One suggested that since you can’t win, ever, you should just change the subject, and get really harsh to get her to stop.
Mostly I find this stuff funny and ridiculous. But it really got me thinking. Why is this myth and belief about fighting with women so prevalent?
The problem is the premise. I really don’t want to be in an argument at all. I don’t want to compete. I don’t want there to be a winner or a loser. I certainly can enjoy a good debate, but only about ‘topics’ and ‘content’. I do NOT want to debate or argue about my feelings, my emotions, charged topics, my perspective, values or beliefs, etc. I am looking to be heard, to be understood and to understand, and to gain closeness and intimacy through a healthy conversation about tough issues.
I am wanting to engage my partner in an interactive discussion in which both of our perspectives are considered, respected and valued. Through conversation and mutual understanding, I am hoping that together we can create solutions that will work for both of us.
Working through issues to me is not a zero sum game where one person wins and the other loses. The concept of ‘winning’ an argument with my husband goes against what I value. If one of us ‘wins’ basically, we both lose.
On the other hand, my husband loves to debate and compete at just about everything. It is really a fun experience for him to challenge ideas, beliefs, and concepts. Through healthy argument and battling out issues, he is better able to integrate with new information, and better able to understand himself and me. He reaches conclusions by evaluating the facts and information, eliminating anything irrelevant, and then summarizing the core of the problem.
For him, this process of debate is enlightening. For me, it is discounting and painful.
Arguments then ensue because I present some idea, feeling, or issue for discussion. I simply want to be heard and understood. I want empathy, relationship and communication. I am willing to give those same things. However my husband’s first natural response is to question what I am saying. He wants to find out if it is ‘rational’, if it makes sense, or if it has validity. To him, a point is valid if it holds up under scrutiny and argument. One of his assumptions is that if he can figure out why I feel a certain way and maybe if I understand the situation better, I might feel differently. In his world, he is just trying to understand what I am talking about; he doesn’t even experience himself as arguing.
His questioning and trying to figure out the ‘why’s’ of what is going on with me manage to piss me off in just the right way (of course), as you can imagine. So an actual argument then ensues.
For me however, the argument is not about the issue I originally presented, but rather, I am arguing for my need to be heard and understood. I am doing everything I can do to try to get him to hear me and to stop arguing with me.
I don’t want it to be rational, or exact, or fit into some box. I just want him to hear beyond my words to what I am really saying (which, by the way, he is really good at and totally capable of). I am arguing trying to get out of the argument.
I do not agree with the belief that I should be logical, unemotional, and have my points all laid out in a perfect manner like my master’s thesis. I am not even trying to do that, nor do I have a goal to do that. My raw experience is often not rational. I know that. It just is what it is. Expressing myself is what helps me clear and complete with an experience so that I can then find solutions, later. It took me many years of personal growth to learn to express myself freely yet responsibly, and I am glad to be able to do that well.
My husband, on the other hand, is arguing to try to get me to see another perspective, or to be more rational, or to change my mind. At that point in time, I am generally not interested or willing to see another perspective. I do not want to be logical, nor is there anything he could say to change my mind. So yes, I do feel emotional and upset, and yes, I do repeat my point which is ‘why the heck are we fighting when I just shared some feelings?’ and yes I am frustrated to tears and the point of insanity at having this same argument over and over again and feeling not heard and understood.
Of course he can’t understand why I am so upset. It makes no sense to him. In his world, he is really trying to understand and figure out what the problem is and open the door to new ideas. So he gets more rational. And I get more emotional, more upset, and feel less heard. We polarize. To him, I seem ridiculous, like I am changing my story and making no sense. I speak in metaphors, in feelings, and in examples. I tell a story, that if interpreted in a concrete manner will never make sense. He wants something concrete. The more I try to explain it, the less sense it makes to him because my metaphors get broader and each of his attempts at pinpointing the problem make it seem like I am changing my story, which infuriates him.
And I am angry that I am even having the argument! As more time passes, I am getting angrier and angrier that we are fighting over my perspective, a perspective that as far as I am concerned, is not up for discussion, debate, or argument. I am really angry that I feel like I have been put on the defensive, and feel like I am required to explain ‘why’ I feel the way I do, rather than experiencing a good solid, reflective, listening ear.
When you look at it that way, of course he can’t ‘win’ the argument. Because basically I am refusing to even have the argument he is trying to have with me. He cannot win an argument that I will not engage in.
A really simple example of how it starts: one day I came home from a high paced exercise routine of walking up and down the stadium stairs at the local city college. I was really excited because I was healing quickly and had completed climbing many more stairs than I thought I could. I said something like ‘I must have climbed at least 1000 steps’. He said something like, ‘I think there are only 900’. UGH! I just wanted him to be excited for me. Who cares if there are 900 steps or 1000? For me, the 1000 steps is a metaphor for A LOT!
For him, it is hard to even hear what I say when it is inaccurate information. He wants to get really clear about how many steps there were. I just want him to be excited. He will never win or prove the point that there were only 900 steps because when this occurs I refuse to even give that point my time or attention since I feel so discounted and uncared about.
Of course this is really simplistic. But the same thing happens with bigger issues. I say something like “it feels like we have been fighting all week.” And I want him to respond to my fear and upset about that. But he responds with something like “we got in only 1 fight, and had 2 small disagreements, what are you talking about?” This leaves me feeling discounted, unheard, and angry that he is focusing on the details and not listening to what I was trying to say. He is angry that I am exaggerating.
We wind up in an argument about how much we are arguing. He is angry and wanting to prove his point that we didn’t argue that much. I am fighting to not fight about it and for him to get that I feel upset and distant. For me, it FELT like we were arguing all week, so even if he had a video tape proving how many times we actually fought (which he would LOVE to have!), he still wouldn’t ‘win’ because I still FELT like we fought all week.
So yes, you can never win a fight the other person won’t engage in.
Of course, over the years, I have learned to not get sucked into this. It all happens so quickly, that it took me years to unravel what was happening. Once I realized that I didn’t even want to BE in the argument, and that that was a big part of why we were fighting, I could begin to identify the starting point and work to stop the argument before it starts.
I have gotten much quicker at being able to say “I don’t want to argue about this.” Of course, that can start an argument, because he doesn’t feel like he is arguing, so he feels blamed. Ha!
Better yet, what works the best is when I simply get vulnerable, and say something like, “I really want you to hear my experience right now; after that, I am happy to hear yours.” We then use some basic reflective listening to hear each other, which can be magic for side stepping even the nastiest of fights.
To summarize, I believe one of the main reasons that men feel like they can’t win an argument with a woman is because she is unwilling to engage in the argument that he wants to engage in. He is arguing to make a point, she is arguing to feel heard and loved. There is no where to go, no way for anyone to ‘win’ as long as both people are fighting for and wanting different things.
Whenever you are at cross purposes with your partner, it is always a good idea to explore what the positive intentions and needs of each person is. Then, when you are not fighting or arguing, spend time negotiating and problem solving ways that both people’s needs can be met when that same scenario happens the next time.
In the example above, If I am able to be vulnerable, and say something such as “I just want you to understand what I am trying to say first, and then we can discuss it later,” my husband has gotten pretty good at responding, and listening first. Once I feel heard and understood, I am much more willing to carry on a debate about the nature of the problem and ways to resolve it.