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.


Online Games

COD online wtfWith a title like that and the premise of this blog you’d think this will be about online dating shenanigans.   Sadly, I seem to be going a bit tangential this spring – I’ll blame the change in seasons for affecting my thinking!

In truth I’ve been playing some online combat games recently and noticed a disturbing trend in games; especially older ones with smaller online communities.  I’m not talking about abuse, in the conventional sense, or in the hacking (use of ‘illegal’ modifications); although both are prevalent in places.

My observation runs around some players need to be on “the winning team”.  This is about there need to maintain their superiority in their “stats”.  These people need to feel a sense of superiority at all times while they are playing.  The need to dominate all other players and will group together against less experienced (or less skilled) players to maintain their sense of self worth.

Let’s be clear, this is not about fun for them.  They will say that it is, but they cannot have fun losing.  Let me put some flesh on that statement.  On one game, which is a form of capture the flag I was on the losing team; the score was effectively 3-2; and I had a great time.  There was a challenge playing against others of a similar ability.  In contrast I have watched these skilled players quite mid-game when they have been on a weak team; which has allowed players like me to take some of the wind out of their sails.  In truth could you imagine how a “sports star” would be treated if they kept walking out of games because they were losing?

These people are the same ones that do in game “dances” to humiliate players that make mistakes.  This seems a perfect earmark of childish bullying.  These people do not play to “link” with other people, but to find a sense of “rank”.  I would presume these people feel demeaned in other areas of their life, where they sense they have a low rank.  There sense of fun comes from an elevation of self-worth through the subjugation of others in the game.

I do not doubt the skill of many of these players, rather that they need to hang around together on a team rather than attempt to challenge each other to demonstrate their skill.  For them the danger would be that one of the others could claim greater ‘rank’ over them and ultimately spoil their ‘fun’.

I’ll come back to the this issue in relationships some time soon.


See: The Undervalued Self

Starry, Starry Night

hearing loop

This headline might be a reference to some time spent with the stars of screen and stage or perhaps a night spent under a cloudless sky. No, I’m afraid I’m more obtuse than that! It is a reference to the closing lines of Don McLean’s song Starry Starry Night; “…there not listening now; perhaps they never will.”

The truth is that most of us are terrible at listening. In fact many people I know have used me as an ear to listen because somewhere along the line I developed an intense listening style. That is not just a case of having two ears and one mouth and using them in that ratio, but also a case of truly listening to what the person says.

There are many layers to good listening; the outermost is being there. It is the hardest first step. Stop thinking about what you have to say; stop problem solving and don’t think about your phone/Facebook/twitter/social media/etc. If you are not mentally and emotionally with the person you are listening to then there is little hope of any kind of emotional bond that can lead to empathy.

The next layer is actively listening. In its most basic you repeat back to the person what they have said. It is not about acting as a recording device, you need to capture the essence of what the person has said. If they are conveying something which has a high emotional content for them they may be less structured and your purpose is to summarise with clarity. Search on the web for “active listening” for exercises on the method.

The next layer is picking up the body language, tone and other non-verbal communication. Chances are you already do part of this, however, it blends with the active listening. What words are emphasised, or generate the greatest physical response? There is often more clues about what is important here than in the words the person is using. If your partner is talking about an emotionally relevant issue I am not talking about subtle personal space, but major actions; or even stillness. Although you could search on the web for body language you should have learnt the basics just growing up.

After their body language people’s choice of words can be very important. With couples the key is usually looking for fear; expressed either as a helplessness or lack of control; or anger, also often a sense of lack of control. This is difficult and often takes more than a single sentence. It is about a direction. This is a cornerstone to the next layer of listening and truly being able to offer help for the other person.

The final layer of listening is also the second level of active listening and is rooted in the Socratic method. This is the point where you help the person help themselves. You end your active listening response with a question that leads the person to an answer that they need to find. You do not tell the person what to do, rather you help them identify the problem and look for their own solutions.

An effective counsellor will be using all these layers and if we want to communicate clearly with a partner, or indeed any other person, when we have a difference or grievance then we need to work at listening. These skills can make our personal and professional relationships run more smoothly.

Be brave a try these skills when a friend is offloading a problem and see if they don’t end up thanking you for being a great listener.

When a Hug is Worth a Thousand Words

The internet is a visual medium, so it is a deliberate choice not to include a picture with this post.  Maybe it is a self-defeating choice, but maybe it will getting engaging the neo-cortex.

There is a wealth of web pages extolling the virtue of the oxytocin release that comes from a hug that lasts AT LEAST 20 seconds.  It’s related to that immediate sense of relief a child feels when it is frightened or hurt and as an adult/carer we rush to give them a hug.  Funnily we think we are calming the hurt child, when in fact we are getting feedback, too, that settles our fears over their hurt.

No matter what your language of love everyone gains from a good (long) hug; unless they are emotionally scarred.  If you are cutting of intimacy for any reason you are damaging, or least depriving, yourself and your partner a fundamental sense of well being.  If your partner’s primary love language is “physical touch” you are certainly devastating the emotional well-being.

A hug serves as the perfect primer before any further communication in any love language.  And guess what!  It can be totally selfish, too.  You get the oxytocin boost and a sense of calmness even though you are giving the hug.  How can you lose?  Remember we are a social animal and that sense of belonging is crucial to our mental well-being.

Go hug someone you love; and that includes friends and family.

Getting a Chemical Hug

bed of roses cynthia omorodionLife is not always a bed of roses; or maybe it is because there are always a prick or two in your life. Weak puns aside that’s not what this post is about.

I am not short on rant about the 5 languages of love. I fit very much in the physical touch category. That means I am great believer in the value of hugs. There is much to advocate hugs (this is a random web page about it) and I will be make a similar post about it myself at some juncture. If hugging is so good for us what can we do if we are lonely or those around us just don’t put any value on the whole hugging thing? Well, I suppose the clue is on the title; I’ve never found subtly to be a great strength on the interweb.

Before you read on take note that this is not medical advice but based on hearsay and empirical evidence and in no way constitutes an endorsement or otherwise. In short – on your head be it.

Whilst not being able to replace the chemical rebalance that you get from a good 20+ second hug St John’s Wort can ease the depressive chemicals/hormones that build up from lack of hugs. It is not a replacement for a real hug, it just makes the lack of hugs more bearable. It might just give an edge on the mood to allow a constructive discussion rather than a wrought argument.

I’m not a great fan of any form of drug induced alteration of reality, but in this case it is a slow steady burn that can take the edge of a situation. Mostly it will help you sleep, which is a great thing for making you feel “better”; although that comes with the warning that when you start taking it you are going to realise how tired you are. You’ll have to fight bad sleeping habits and that may be no bad thing, if you know its coming.

This isn’t a call to rush out and buy the stuff, more a call to stop and think. If you feel a little blue about there being no hugs in your bed of roses, then maybe a gentle chemical hug is what you need.

Pump up the Volume

man-on-loudspeakerA series of discussions with friends has lead to a minor epiphany. The conclusion was simple; those that have had a major emotional trauma in their childhood were more intense in their demand for affection as adults. This may seem like psychology 101, but this is not conjecture, but based on our empirical evidence.

When we looked at traumatic events it wasn’t just the obvious ones, such as divorce, although they were included. They included things like being sent to boarding school, when the parents really didn’t know what to do with them, although plenty survive with little scarring. Other things were emigrating, parents working overseas, parents in high powered jobs and a few others where the child may have gleaned a feeling that they were second to whatever events were taking place. Often these things can be found when developing your genogram.

The effect of this trauma is that men (and probably women in similar circumstances) feel a greater need for input from the “right point” in their Love Triangle. They feel the need for their language of love to be shouted, not whispered. Within some social norms this may not be possible, and even frowned upon; especially if it involves sex, one of the great post-feminist taboos.

This need for increased emotional volume impacts their adult relationships. What if the other half won’t “shout”? Oh, they often can in the heady early days of a relationship, but can they keep it up? Largely that will depend on whether or not they speak the receiver’s love language fluently, or at least competently. Troubles arise when the shouting is reduced to silence, even if it is only for periods during the relationship.

One consequence of this need for increased emotional volume is the development of coping mechanisms for the periods of “silence”. Pornography, drugs (especially alcohol), affairs and sometimes apparently positive ones; including those that involve driven success in business or sport; become the common outlets or crutches. The difficulty is that these have generally become “bad things” in society; think of the 7 deadly sins. I am not advocating them as “good things”, but they can be managed if counseling is sought out, which can be especially powerful if done within a supportive relationship and not one of accusation and recrimination.

A word of caution in defining the “bad things”. Women can read this as making the culturally biased assumption of the bad aspects of pornography, violent competition, infidelity, drugs, gambling, etc. being the preserve of the male. Although they may concede that some women fall foul of these things they miss the point that women often have “socially acceptable” vices they can exercise without fear of being ostracized. What am I talking about? Think along the lines of compulsive consumerism; when retail therapy is a permanent state of mind. Wanton consumption of food; why is the diet industry so big for women? The “glass of wine” mummies. These little “vices” are no different to the others, but we think of them as “less dirty” and “not harming anyone else”. Funnily, those are often the phrases used by addicts of the more recognisable variety.

On the flip side we can get the reverse of more volume, the withdrawal into emotional silence. The strong silent type, the totally work driven spouse, passive aggressive, the emotionally unavailable, the commitment issues, etc. These are just a reflection of the need for more volume. They look to avoid the pain by avoiding the emotion. I’ll return to some of this in a later posts about the Opposite of Love and The Seven Deadly (un)Sins.

Oddly, in the early days these two can be strongly attracted to each other. One brings quiet to the clamour of the other and one brings purpose to the noise. However, when there is a major emotional upset; for example a death in the family or the loss of a job; people revert to their norm. One goes quiet just as the other needs the volume turning up. Even trying to resolve this pushes the people further into their default behaviour.

Simple methods, such as “you can only speak when you’re holding the object” or the use of pre-structured sentences; “I feel this, when you do that, because I think it means…” These methods are great at getting the dialogue started.

In short, not only have you got to find the language of love the other person speaks you also need to find what volume they want to hear it. Loving someone is about accepting their difference on the outside and knowing they still feel the same on the inside.


It’s All in the Mind

pink brainThis is another one of those cornerstone pieces I should have written a long time ago. It is about addressing all the misconceptions that will come about reading my posts. Well, maybe not all of them but at least put things in perspective. [There are other things I should be doing now rather than writing this, but life is a crazy place.]

Much is made of the gender difference, and the “war of the sexes”. Sadly, this middle class “Western” obsession is killing society. We are obsessed by appearance. I don’t just mean fashion, clothes, hairstyle or any other the other parts of the extended phenotype; we are fixated by the phenotype itself. Simply put’ we’re bothered if you are male or female.

We base huge assumptions on a facet of people. Feminists decry that they are treated badly based on this poor generalisation. However, they are in danger of perpetuating the root of this problem by their very behaviour. I perceive you treat me based on my phenotype therefore I shall filter all your actions on the assumption that they are motived by my phenotype.

Its easy to berate people for this behaviour on the grounds that there is an ethical imperative not to be sexist. There is an appeal to our sense of fairness that people should be treated ‘equally’ without bias based on their gender. However, to achieve that we need to understand the reasons why we seem to get caught in this stereotyping trap, personally and as a society.

Our first stumbling block is our brains need to generalise data. When we’re being kind we call it learning. Put another way, to handle everything we meet in the world we make assumptions that something that seems like X will behave like X. We do this for everything from cups to balls to walls to people. Until we have reason to create a unique mental space for an object, and that includes people, we generalise behaviour to save on the effort it takes to work out how it will behave. And we are inherently lazy; especially for mental processes.

The advantages of generalisation are enormous and we wouldn’t want to get rid of it. So, why do we have this male-female divide? Simply we are highly impacted by visual input. Thus, someone’s phenotype; gender, hair colour, skin colour, height, etc.; influences our initial generalised opinion of them. That opinion might be further adjusted by their extended phenotype; clothes, hairstyle, car, friends, etc.

If we come back to just the impression we based solely on their gender we will undoubtedly be wrong more often than we are right in a modern world. Largely this is because men and women are both perfectly capable of activities that are mentally based. However, what about behaviour rather than just capability?

Sadly, we make the behaviour assessment based on gender phenotype when we should be doing it based on brain structure. Barbara & Allan Pease in Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’ Read Maps examined brain activity of people during different mental exercises. What they found was there is two broad categories of brains; male and female. The quirk is that the brain type does not match the gender/phenotype as often as our generalised (phenotype) model would like.

Thus, our behaviours and abilities; listening and map reading, for example; are not matched by the visual phenotype as often as we like. It does mean that the exceptions to the rule; men with female brains or vice versa; often feel an intense sense of persecution as their mental skills and behaviour patterns are contradicted by their expected behaviour.

Our ability to generalise saves us a huge amount of mental effort. What we do need to learn is to use it as guide and know when to walk away when its not working. We also need to recognise when the gender generalisation is being used to avoid writing reams of words to list every exception rather than find the unintended sexism that is inherent in generalisations. Practise not being offended; try a touch of tolerance and listen to the message not any unintended subtext.

Our personal and cultural gender stereotypes are there as guides and are not rules. True feminism needs to teach men, and women, not to be lazy with their thinking and remember that. It also needs to be borne in mind when reading this blog that in relationships the male and female (phenotype) role maybe reverse compared to what is written here. I am a man and tend to think in the first person, so I will undoubtedly show a male gender bias in my writing. Before you shoot me, ask; am I any different?

This post could have been called “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. That would have been lazy and you need to think when you read this (and anything else) and realise it is a guide written from my view of the world. You need to read things not as black and white nor to believe that I see the world in a simple black and white way. Remember; only the Sith deal in absolutes.


PS: I’ve not read it (yet); but the book about gender stereotypes should be of interest, too. Pink Brain, Blue Brain