Bringing up the Past Won’t Win This Argument


Always cautious of stereotypes I’m afraid I’m going to bring one up now; and I’m well aware of the dangers of generalising. Now with that dappled caveat out of the way – on we go.

Women tend to bring up every transgression they can get their mind about when an argument starts. It’s like they hold a mental list ready to restart where the last argument finished in a smouldering wreck. No matter what starts it it always ends up as the same argument in the end. If you, or your partner, always drag up the past when there is a disagreement then you both need new tactics for dealing with conflict.

Always dragging up the past and truly unconnected issues to the argument prevents resolution of what needs to be addressed. I am not suggesting that the issues being raised are not valid in some way, they are just going to prevent the resolution of the here-and-now events and add to the ever growing list of topics for the next and subsequent arguments.

One part of this need to drag up everything in the collective past is a ranking motive; the need to be the other person’s “boss”. The other common driver for all this is the “under valued self”; where some past events in our life has lead to to a failure/trauma and we use the blame self-defence mechanism; which might also be translated as “attack is the best form of defence”.

If you are drawing up the past you might be surprised to learn that it is you that has anger management issues. You are not dealing with the current issue you are reliving something in your past and you need to find a way to separate them. That is no easy matter.

To stop entering the “drag up the past” mode you need to go back and find the root of this behaviour. That is a long slow process, however, you can make progress in the here-and-now by drawing breath and focussing on the SINGLE issue at hand.

Has the other person got grounds to be upset; even if that was not your intention? Ask yourself that question again and be sure you are looking at if from their point of view. Remember that don’t have all the information you do and their reaction is based on what they know.

It may be hard to ask for forgiveness for wrongs we don’t want to admit we committed, even if they are done unwittingly.  It is not a failure to have to have wronged someone; to err is human.  It is, however, a failure to admit our actions have harmed someone and ask for forgiveness.  The failure is then their’s if they cannot give that forgiveness.



The Reciprocal of Pareto’s Argument

reciprocal paretoWhen we feel ourselves under threat (or attack) we often demand that the other person sees out point of view.  It’s easy to ask the the other person to see where you are 20% right, but what if we could just stop for a moment and have a think about how the other person feels?  What about the part of the argument where we are being unreasonable?  

If you use Pareto’s principle and see where you were 20% in the wrong then this opens a place for you act with some humility and repair the damage that has been done.  This is not a declaration that you are wholly wrong, rather it is admitting how you have contributed the current state of affairs.  That might be nothing more that overreacting in the first instance; in any one of a multitude of ways.

At absolutely no point am I suggesting this is easy.  Probably the most likely response you’ll get is the other person latching on to this as an admission of fault.  If that is what you get then the other person is using blame as a defence mechanism because they feel under threat (hmmm, wasn’t that what you were doing before you owned up to some contribution to this mess?).  I could carry on and talk about any one of the other defence mechanism people will use, but I’ll save that for another post.

If 20% seems like too much maybe you should look at my next post (they may be out of order now, but hey that’s the order I wrote them).  Either way, if you can break the mould in your mind that everything the other person does is evil incarnate and designed to hurt you then you can start to look for healing.  It is not the end game, but get us out of the loop of looking for apologies that are not our’s to get.



Double or Quits – Pareto Twice

measure-twice-cut-twice1I could have called this, measure twice, cut once but arguing is more like gambling than carpentry.  Unlike wood, in every argument someone fights back (the wood only fights back some of the time!)

I’ll often make reference to Pareto’s principle.  It’s a common description of something called a Power Law.  I’m not going to give you links, you’ve all got a search engine if you’re reading this.

Now I appreciate, in a very first hand sort of way, that taking 20% of something can seem like a big step.  Perhaps I was being naive, or just intellectually lazy, treating it as a single step.  So what happens if you just take 20% of the 20%?  Well then you only need to digest 4%.

I could rabbit on, but a man I know called Mel Schwartz has written about this already; and because he’s a paid up professional I’ll let his words do the talking.

Top Dog – Who’s in Charge in Your Marriage?

Fe50_50w successful business partnerships have a 50/50 share split. Most have an uneven share split or use the idea of the “magic share”; the single share that means when there is deadlock that person’s opinion is the one that carries the day. On the whole this works surprisingly well.

This is a clear and simple example of “ranking”; who is above who in the pecking order. It is done up front, embedded in the partnership agreement and never in doubt. Successful partnerships seldom, if ever, invoke this clause. Why? Because they know what the outcome is before it starts. There is no argument.

I believe that in a ‘romantic’ relationship the same principle should be applied. We apply it whether we think we do or don’t, or have endless arguments about who has the higher rank; and those relationships don’t tend to last. If you sense a constant run of arguments in your relationship, and these can take many forms, you may have a ranking issue. This means one or both of you are unclear about who is the ‘top dog’. Why that may be is complex, but you might have an indication as to why you seem to be in constant conflict.

If the person that is given the ‘deciding vote’ always applies it to get what they want, then that is an abusive relationship, in business or in romance. It removes all value of the other person and says more about the broken state of the abuser than the those subjected to it; unless they stay around and become victims. The choice to become a victim is a complex subject for another post.

A clue that you have become mildly abusive is if you hear the phrase “You take me for granted.” What has happened is that you have taken your superior rank for granted and not used it to cherish the other person. If you have the upper hand and you love the other person you show that by surrendering the power you have been granted. That is the key to loving someone that has chosen to use as the leader. If you doubt that, think back to the last “good boss” you had and how they treated you.

The top dog may be harder to spot than you think. One partner may seem like the top dog, but if they are expected to defer to the other’s wishes all the time then the power is all a charade. The potential to become the abuser in this inverted power relationship is typified by the ‘nagging wife’ stereotype.

As much as you need a top dog in the relationship they need to be sure they don’t become an abuser. For this type of relationship to succeed it needs to be about the common good, not just what is best for one or the other. If all you want to do is compete to be top dog, take up a sport and let everyone else get on with caring about each other.