My (now ex-) wife and I could get tangled up in a conflict pretty easily. Honestly, she was much better at arguing than I am. She knew just what to say that hurt, the half-truths that were hard to defend, and could twist my words to make me look bad. I could never figure out how to protect my honor, much less how to win an argument with her.

It’s not that I didn’t try. I attacked back with my own barrage of sarcasm, nasty words, and name-calling. I raised my voice, became physically intimidating, and sometimes struck her. All that accomplished was to deepen the quarrel, damage the relationship, and in the case of my violence, get me into trouble with the law.

My response to our fights was not working, but I didn’t see an alternative. I didn’t want to become a doormat, forced to accept what seemed unjust and stuff my frustration in silence. Maybe because no one showed me differently, I only knew one path for how to win an argument: keep fighting—and escalate it if necessary.

Sage advice on how to win an argument

I described this predicament to my counselor. How do I, on the one hand, handle my partner’s verbal attacks, while on the other hand, not make a bigger mess? Can you relate?

Change the definition of what winning means.

My counselor gave me some really great advice on how to win an argument: change the definition of what winning means. I had been fighting with the goal that my wife would see how unfair her words were and that she’d change her point of view. The trouble was, she was upset and that objective was unlikely to happen in the heat of battle, even if I was right.

Alternatively, I could define “winning” the argument as successfully calming her down. With that aim in mind, my strategy shifted. Here, sensible tactics included listening, agreeing with the parts I could say yes to, and letting her know that I cared about her.

Different objectives, different actions, different outcomes

These two different objectives require two very different courses of action and lead to very different outcomes. Seeking justice (or at least justice as I see it) means a battle, pushing my point until I change my partner’s mind or ways. I end up weary from fighting and she’s likely to feel bitter, angry, and resentful that I fought so hard.

Even if she gives in, the victory is hollow because I know she’s simply complying and not agreeing. She’ll probably be distant and cool—an understandable aftereffect of a fight. I may win the battle, but I lose the war.

I may win the battle, but I lose the war.

The other choice is to pause and examine the outcome I want in the long-term. What does that look like, and how am I most likely to get it? When I ask these questions, I get answers like I want to be close and have a great relationship built on trust and respect.

One path to that result involves letting the little stuff go. Developing an awareness of why certain things irritate me, then challenging those thoughts, allows me to handle those situations myself without creating a conflict. I have the power to eliminate many disagreements by not starting them.

Still there are important matters that should be discussed with our partners. Doing so when we’re both calm and I’ve thought through what I want to say is far more likely to conclude well. When I accept in advance that I might not get her to see my viewpoint, then my expectations are properly set. I try to remind myself that our relationship (and I) will be okay, even if she doesn’t agree.

Our relationship and I will be okay, even if my partner doesn’t agree.

Make what you want and value in the long-term your focus next time a dispute comes up. Then, act in a way that will get you that ending. The answer on how to win an argument is to not engage in one, but rather to stay calm and talk through the issue. Any ending that results in a close, trusting, and respectful relationship is the sweetest win possible.

Faith note

I’ve found it is much easier to lovingly cool down an upset partner and stay calm myself when I see myself from God’s perspective. Knowing that he loves me unconditionally frees me from needing so much from my partner. If she says harsh, hurtful words about me, I can hear them as feedback but not necessarily the truth.

When I remember that my God-given life purpose is to love others, then I’m better able to patiently respond to an upset spouse. My job is to help her feel loved, not defend myself, because God already has that covered. I become less concerned with how to win an argument and more focused on how to fulfill my purpose.

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