How to Argue Successfully.

Simple strategies like starting a thumb war.

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Any time four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.” Johnny Carson

If you intend to argue with your partner, remember the famous words of General Ulysses Grant who said, “Wars aren’t won on the battlefield.” I had to look it up because I thought that was the whole idea behind wars, but, no, Grant said it isn’t. Wars are won on strategy, what he called “doing the opposite of what your opponent thinks you’re going to do.”

I’m like that, except people call it “being annoying.” Maybe that’s how the Civil War was won. Grant simply annoyed Robert E. Lee until Lee couldn’t take it any longer. He put his sword on the table and said, “You are one annoying fellow, Grant,” and signed a complete surrender.

By that time, much blood had been spilt by both sides, something most partners today won’t tolerate. I won’t either. I hate the sight of blood. So did Grant, by the way. He couldn’t even eat bloody meat. Imagine calling a general “old blood and guts” and he couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

You shake hands, wish each other well, and hope a horse rolls on them going home.

Anyway, doing the opposite of what people think you’re going to do worked really well for Grant. It ended the Civil War, and the two generals eventually left on reasonably good terms. Of course, you have to do that. Nobody likes a sore loser or a boisterous winner. You shake hands, wish each other well, and hope a horse rolls on them going home.

So how do you do the opposite when you’re arguing with your partner? I went on one of those media discussion sites and found all kinds of great examples. One man, for instance, takes off his clothes. He doesn’t start off naked. He waits until just the right moment and suddenly strips. This works every time because, according to him, it’s very disarming.

“Who can argue when one of you is dangling?” he wrote.

Women don’t dangle, obviously, but anyone standing there buck naked has to have some effect. It adds a certain amount of needed levity, or possibly it gets you arrested if you’re in, say, a restaurant. Being arrested ends an argument every time. Sometimes it’s worth it.

As one man said, “Most disputes can be solved with a two-minute Wikipedia search.”

Another example is stopping the argument to do research. Imagine your partner says, “You don’t have to turn this into the Civil War, for God’s sake.” That’s the perfect opportunity to look up the Civil War. You soon discover your argument isn’t anything like the Civil War — or any war, for that matter. As one man said, “Most disputes can be solved with a two-minute Wikipedia search.”

One of my favourites was a couple in Cincinatti who end arguments by dancing. Again, this is the opposite of what most couples do. They’re mad, frustrated, reaching for a paring knife. Dancing solves this right away, especially the kind of dancing this couple does. “We square dance while talking in circles,” the woman explained.

Square dancing is guaranteed to end any argument, mostly because you need three other couples to form a square, and you’ve got some guy saying “do say do” and “allemande left,” which basically makes talking impossible. You also get pretty winded.

Then there’s the “chill pill,” a disarming concept where one party pops an imaginary chill pill in his or her mouth. The other partner checks to make sure it isn’t under their tongue. “It’s hilarious,” the woman said. “We usually laugh our asses off and have sex.” If you’re on the pill, why not have sex?

“My husband and I have an imaginary ‘pause’ button. If the argument turns nasty, we press pause and have a lot of dirty, dirty sex. He tends to agree with me more afterwards.”

A woman from Phoenix agreed saying, “My husband and I have an imaginary ‘pause’ button. If the argument turns nasty, we press pause and have a lot of dirty, dirty sex. He tends to agree with me more afterwards.”

If imaginary chill pills or pause buttons don’t do it for you, have a “thumb war.” Thumb wars remind us of our childhoods when anything could be settled by “going to the thumbs.”

As simple as it sounds, relationship experts claim any return to innocence is actually good for us. We’re reminded that, at one time, our heads weren’t filled with what one psychologist called “old graves.”

Old graves are incidents that left scars which some people are reluctant to let go of. They bring them up during every argument, turning a dispute about toothpaste into a long exposé on bedwetting.

“You end up completely off topic,” the psychologist explained.”

Most murders are the result of arguments where someone said, “You’re crazy.”

This is why Grant’s strategy of doing the opposite is so important. According to the same psychologist, we go into relationships with very different mindsets. Arguments occur because essentially we think the other person is crazy. We either accept their craziness or we shoot them. Most murders are the result of arguments where someone said, “You’re crazy.”

In any case, we can’t change our partners. What we can do is focus instead on the spark, the magic that keeps affection alive.

“It’s your history together that makes things special,” Linda Keres Carter, author of The Tudjina, wrote in an article, claiming personalities don’t have to mesh. Differences actually form a better glue. It’s what you do with that glue that forms a bond. In other words, you have to be “sticky.”

Sigmund Freud said we all “act out of vulnerability,” so arguments are just us trying to get a toehold in our relationship. We want to strengthen our positions, much like General Grant did in his push towards Richmond (look it up next time you’re arguing and turn to Wikipedia).

General Lee expected Grant in one place, so Grant went to two other places. Sounds simple enough, but it involved hundreds of thousands of men. You don’t just sneak up on someone with 100,000 men, nor do you win arguments simply by arguing. What it really takes is imagination. Both generals had a lot of imagination. They came up with stuff nobody had even heard of before.

In effect, you’re working towards a mutual goal, even if it involves taking an imaginary “chill pill.”

That’s what every relationship needs. Doing the opposite, or just something weird, really helps. Our minds like the unexpected. We respect the other’s creativity so we do the same. In effect, you’re working towards a mutual goal, even if it involves taking an imaginary “chill pill.”

Coming up with goofy things, even strange things, is what you remember afterwards. It replaces the “old graves” and often the negativity that goes with it. Standing naked definitely gets rid of the negativity, and the occasional thumb war doesn’t go amiss either.

Someone commented that they’ve had great success with thumb wars, even adding commentary like, “I also use this hand to masturbate”

Okay, you don’t have to go that far, but any form creativity will turn an argument into a successful discussion. Your partner might even stop the dialogue to ask, “What made you think of that?”

You’re like a cat that never does what anyone expects. Eventually, you end up loving the cat for that very reason. It’s doing its own thing.

All of which either leads to dirty sex, or you getting thrown out of the house for being weird. Don’t be discouraged. Regardless of the result, you changed the battlefield. You moved the relationship forward. You’re like a cat that never does what anyone expects. Eventually, you end up loving the cat for that very reason. It’s doing its own thing. It’s its own cat.

As Freud would say, “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (in paperback August 6th). Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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