Did you ever see the movie Revolutionary Road? It’s a PSA on how NOT to fight as a couple. For those of you who’d rather not submit to two hours of cinematic depression, here are the five hateful argument tactics you should avoid for the sake of love:
1. Fighting Dirty
Avoid the temptation to say something unforgivably mean and petty as a defense mechanism: “My ex’s penis was way bigger than yours,” or “You remind me of my/your mother,” or “I lied: Your butt does so look big in those jeans” or — and this is the mother of all fighting-dirty lines — “I’m not sure we’re right for each other if you think that.” It doesn’t matter whether the mean thing you say is the cold harsh truth or just some stupid lie you made up to hurt your partner — once it’s out there, you can never take it back. It takes on a life of its own. Even if you get back together after a fight like this, that mean thing will haunt your relationship forever.
2. Playing Tit for Tat
A.k.a. Whataboutism. You know how you’re not supposed to answer a question with a question? Well, you can’t win one argument by creating another. Just because your partner may be airing a gripe about you, that does not mean you should up the ante with an even bigger gripe you have about them: “Oh, you think I’m selfish for never doing the dishes, well you are the king of selfishness for never giving me an orgasm!” And don’t even think about lobbing one final last-minute grenade over the fence after calling a truce: “I’m really sorry I forgot your birthday but we’re kind of even now because you forgot Valentine’s Day last year, remember?”
3. Allowing a Trivial Interruption
Answering the phone, answering the door to a Jehovah’s Witness, turning on the TV because a new episode of “Game of Thrones” is on, etc., won’t end the argument — it’ll only postpone it. You may think you’ve gotten the upper hand by dismissing and disrespecting your partner by tending to “more important things,” but the whole time you’re trying to explain to the Jehovah’s Witness that you’re really more of a secular humanist, your partner will be (a) getting madder by the second and (b) coming up with an argument so watertight that you’ll never beat it.
4. Storming Out
Making a dramatic exit is not nearly as effective as Hollywood movies make it out to be. Your partner will most likely not chase after you, and you’ll just come across as childish and unattractive. (Em learned this lesson the hard way when she slammed the door behind her and then attempted to open it to get in one last zinger, but realized she’d slammed the door so hard that the it was stuck. Her demands to “Open this door now, damn it!” were, needless to say, ignored.)
5. Caving Completely
Now, we’re not saying don’t compromise — in fact, that’s usually the only way you can end an argument (except for having sex, which we also highly recommend). No, we’re talking about pretending you agree with your partner or pretending you’re 100% sorry just so they’ll drop the issue. Because if you don’t really mean it, all that anger and resentment will simmer just below the surface until the next time your partner does something totally innocuous, like forgetting to put the cap back on the toothpaste, and you explode irrationally.