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For Your Marriage

How to Stop an Argument Before It Starts

Do you and your mate get into the same arguments, time and gain? Do you encounter family members who have the uncanny ability to push your buttons and get in your face, even though you set out to steer clear of strife? As a lawyer and couples mediator I have observed the same dumb arguments ruining relationships. In my book Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, I share five smart comments you can rely on to short-circuit an argument.

Here are the top five arguments that occur in every family, and the smart responses you can use to reject conflict.

1. The Political Argument: “You’re wrong. I don’t want that flip-flopping jerk in the White House.”

Smart Response: Don’t defend, just deflect. Say: “That’s your opinion and you have a right to it. But for now, let’s agree to disagree and just have a good night.” By stating the obvious and rejecting the bait you sound wise without adding fuel to the fire.

2. The Financial Argument: “We can’t afford that!”

Smart Response: Focus on facts. Say: “Let’s sit down and go over the household cash flow.” Without facts at hand, assumptions lay the foundation for an onslaught of disputes. By sharing the math about your expenses you will know what you can, and cannot, afford.

3. The Techno-pest Argument: “You’ve been upstairs for an hour already. Get off that $%#@&*^ computer!”

Smart Response: Employ Positive Criticism. Say: “You know, I really miss your company. I like hearing what you have to say. Will you join me in the living room for a drink?” If your mate chooses tech toys over people, don’t complain, just explain. When phrased with flattery, you’ll get what you want.

4. The Over-sharing Argument: “I can’t believe you told your brother I am unemployed. I wasn’t going to tell anyone until I find another job.”

Smart Response: Create a Border Control. Say: “Before we go to dinner with your side of the family, lets agree on which topics are private versus public.” Perhaps your recent health issues and job instability are things you don’t want anyone to know. Everyone, even your spouse, has a different expectation of what is private v. public. If you expect your mate to read your mind, you’ve opened the door to a fight. Avoid potential foot in mouth moments with a pre-event discussion.

5. The “I Always Do Everything” Argument: “I have to prepare the food, watch the kids and greet all the guests while you’re relaxing and drinking beer with a few of your friends in the living room.”

Smart Response: Ask for what you want. Be specific. Say, “There are three things I’d like you to do for our dinner party: 1) Go to the bakery to pick up the fresh bread and rolls. 2) When guests arrive, please greet them and offer everyone drinks, and 3) When it’s time to eat, help me bring the food in and out of the kitchen. Can you do that?” Research shows that getting an advance commitment makes the person more likely to follow-through.

With these five smart responses you can dodge unnecessary conflict so family times are what they should be – good times!

About the author 
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, relationship expert, and bestselling author. For more articles visit