Constructive Arguing Rules
The following list has many similar incarnations used by therapists in couples counseling. While the author is unknown, I feel that the information is too valuable to avoid listing. If anyone can document the proper source citation, I would love to hear from them.
1. Arguments should be held in order to reach a solution, not to gain a victory. If you insist on a “win-lose” position, both will probably lose in the end. By remaining flexible, both can win, at least in part.
2. No physical violence is allowed. This is the only absolutely rigid rule.
3. You cannot refuse to argue. If something is important to one person in a relationship, it is worth trying to find a solution. It is sometimes useful to make an appointment to argue rather than arguing in the heat of strong emotions.
4. There shoould be no leaving the argument in the middle unless there is a mutual agreement to a truce or temporary cessation of hostilities.
5. Rules should be set by the two arguers only, no third parties, like friends or relatives involved. Discuss your rules ahead of time.
6. The basic outline of an argument should be: A) state your gripe or position, B) suggest some alternatives, and C) reach a solution.
7. State your gripe in the form of a positive request and not a negative demand like, “let’s go out more often” rather than “stop watching TV all the time.”
8. State your gripe about behavior and not a state of being. It is better to say, “Please pick up your clothes” rather than “you are such a slob.”
9. Accept responsibilities for your own feelings. Say “I am angry,” rather than “you make me angry.”
10. Don’t make speeches. State your gripe and then let the other person respond. If your opponent states a point, you must respond to it before you can make a new point. You should answer questions directly.
11. There should be no hitting below the belt. Personal attacks or name-calling are not ok. Don’t exagerate. You are not out to destroy your opponent, but to find a solution to a problem.
12. Don’t play archeologist. Focus clearly on the real issue of the current problem and don’t dig things out of the past. Argue about one thing at a time.
13. Don’t play psychologist. Don’t try to tell the other what they are thinking, why they are feeling the way they are, or why they are doing something.
14. Don’t try to mind-read, it’s impossible…so ask instead. Be sure everything is very clear. Perceptions of the same situation often differ. Think about what you need, and ask what the other needs. Your needs may be much more similar than you think.
15. There should be no emotional blackmail. It is not fair to use love or sex as a weapon or punishment. Act honestly and directly with the other person.
16. Don’t argue about who is to blame. If the problem is a question of fact, get the facts. If the problem is a matter of opinion, recognize that a compromise is the only solution.
17. Try to agree on some negotiation or exchange. You may be willing to give on some points if the other will give on other points.
18. If you are assertive (direct, honest and appropriate), instead of aggressive, arguing can be constructive and creative.