There are worse things for couples to do than argue. When you talk, even if it’s heated, there’s the chance of making things better.
But there are rules to fighting. There’s actually 10, which two Dutch scholars developed in the 1980’s, and they encompass such evergreen advice as: Avoid, “You always.” No name-calling. Don’t interrupt. Crystallized even more: stay relevant, be reasonable.
It all sounds solid, but nobody can stay constantly focused. Plus, you are in an argument. “Emotions make us unreasonable,” says Robyn Landow, New York City psychologist.
So you fall back on shortcuts just to have something to say, like the logical fallacy, one of those things that you’ve never heard of but probably use regularly. What is a logical fallacy? It’s a mistake in your reasoning, or “disease in reasoning,” as Michael Hoppmann, associate teaching professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, describes it. It occurs when what you say doesn’t fit the context of the argument.
It might not be your intention, but it’s still a choice, like being polite or funny would be, and going with the fallacy most likely annoys your partner because you’re shutting all talk down. “It basically always makes things worse,” Landow says. “You’re stonewalling. You’re not contributing to the problem-solving aspect of the conversation.”
It’s wise to avoid falling into the logical fallacy trap. But since the fallacy is an elusive concept, it’s helpful to first know what you’re looking for in order to fix it. Here are six common logical fallacies that happen in arguments.
6 Logical Fallacies to Avoid Using
#1: “Well maybe we should keep them in bubble wrap all day.”
Your spouse voices a safety concern about the kids riding a bike, sledding, or playing baseball, and this is what you say. Most fallacies are like that. They’re not openers but responses, notes Hoppmann’s colleague, Heidi Kevoe-Feldman, associate professor of communication at Northeastern University. With this comment — or another one like it — you’re not taking her concerns seriously and you’re creating a slippery slope by comparing her desire to be safe this time to being safe all the time. “It’s annoying because you’re misinterpreting her, and no one likes to be misinterpreted,” Hoppmann says.
#2: “Why don’t you let me have some fun?”
Maybe it’s the question over having another glass of wine or not going to bed earlier. Your partner is showing concern for you, but you take it as being told what to do and that can make you feel smaller in comparison, Hoppmann says, and you’re hearing it as something sinister and an absolute, so you could have just as well said, “Why don’t you ever let me have any fun?”
#3: “If you keep up the spending, we’re going to lose the house.”
If it’s out-of-control and might bankrupt you, then by all means bring the issue up in a productive manner. But if it’s not true, it’s just a foolish threat and “a way to complain,” Kevoe-Feldman says.
#4: “Just trust me. I know about this.”
The variations could include, “You gotta believe me.” “I have the experience.” “This is only what I do for a living.” Could your expertise be true? Yes, but you’re still dismissing the chance of learning something. “You’ve just lost a pair of eyes,” Hoppmann says. “That’s never making a belief smarter if you’re disqualifying proofreaders.”
#5: “I thought we decided this last week.”
You might well have, but your partner has a right to reopen a discussion, because new information comes up and we usually don’t have the right words in the moment. “The best conversations are after the conversation is over,” Kevoe-Feldman says. It can be frustrating and inefficient, but it’s part of a relationship. “It can be put to a vote again,” Hoppmann says. “We can learn more.”
#6: “So I guess you’re allowed to check your phone?”
Your partner has voiced priorities about taking a break from screens; then you witness scrolling or texting around dinner time. Hypocrite. Busted. But if you watch long enough, you’ll find anyone’s cracks. “Everyone has inconsistencies in their belief set,” he says. If you’re not talking about the relevant topic, your spouse’s behavior isn’t fair game, and your comment is merely a chance to get in a gratuitous dig.
Breaking the Habit
Knowing is half the battle. You see the look or hear the feedback and realize that being annoying isn’t your goal. Awareness is necessary, but change is hard. This is most likely a behavior learned from childhood. It’s a habit, and that means it’s habitual, where you bypass the prefrontal cortex that does all the creative thinking and go right to your reply, Landow says.
Like with your kids before they play, it helps to review your personal rules of fighting in the positive. Listen. Talk kindly. Acknowledge difficulty. This gives you a reference point, but arguments don’t always have an announced start. You might be caught off guard, which can lead to reactivity and continuing the problem.
If you do one thing, pause before you speak. When you slow the pace, you can remember how you want to be and figure out what you want to say.
“If we just wait two-three seconds after the other person stops talking, the world would be a totally different place,” Landow says.