Updated: Sep 13, 2022
How to stop an argument mid sentence.
The accusations are flying back and forth. You don’t see eye to eye on key issues. Your husband just blamed the kids' bad habits on you, but you clearly point out that he actually is the one that is lacking in that area. Attack, counter attack, offense, defense.
Arguing is exhausting, crushing and debilitating in a marriage.
There are those that see no way around a couple arguing, and so try to legitimize it by saying that arguing is healthy in a good relationship, and you just need to know how to argue. So, no name calling, use ‘I messages’, and of course, choose a good time, when he is not angry, hungry or tired.
It sounds good, and like this ought to work. Somehow, though, trying to argue respectfully is still arguing. It is liable to land a couple right back in the land of disconnect and upset, no matter how carefully they try to get it right. Besides, even if you are committed to keeping the ground rules, what if your husband is not?
Definitely, name calling is not a great thing to do, but choking back a name, when your eyes and manner are shouting it loud and clear is not going to be any better. Even if you are too refined, and would never consider name calling, the disapproval that you are very likely oozing, will have the same effect.
Dina was frustrated that her husband always left his things around. She felt he was absentminded and careless. Though she would never say such a thing to him, she would frequently comment or sigh about things he had left around. This communicated her perception of her husband to him loud and clear.
Using ‘I messages’ doesn’t help much either. Saying, “I really don’t like it when things are left on the floor and I have to pick them up”, as you are holding up his pajama pants, is just as much a criticism as saying, “you inconvenience me when you leave your things on the floor”.
It’s the same message, just prettier words.
It is not far from saying- “you are inconsiderate”.
Especially if that’s what you are actually thinking in that moment. And If this issue has come up before and it is not the first time you’ve had to point out that he’s left his things around, it enters the realm of nagging as well.
Another example, saying, ‘I don’t want the kids to get sick from too much junk’ is the same as saying, ‘you’re going to make the kids sick if you give them so much junk’. That is not far from saying, ‘you are being irresponsible with our kids’ health’. Quite a judgement, as true as it feels right then.
Finding a good time to talk about things is also tricky. If you have young children, how frequently are you not tired? And if you have a range of ages of children at home, how often can you find a moment when you are both relaxed and available? Oftentimes a woman in search of that elusive moment will hold things in until she explodes. That’s not helpful.
Perhaps a couple will designate a set time weekly to address concerns. That might work for a bit until it doesn’t. Such as when yomim tovim come around, or you have a new baby, or someone’s schedule changes. Or what if something needs to be addressed right away, or resentment will fester for a week until the next time they have scheduled to talk?! That doesn't work.
For sure when the mood between you is negative nothing productive will come from the conversation. However even when he’s feeling good, chances are that bringing up a heated topic will just ruin the mood, and then you’re back to square one! That’s a big cost.
Rachel was hurt that her husband didn’t want to spend time with her. She really wasn’t asking for much. An occasional dinner, a walk around the block when the kids were asleep, really anything! For some reason he found time to spend with his friends or family, but never could find the time for her. Eventually she realized that every time they’d spend time together she would use the opportunity to bring up what was on her heart. They were relaxed and comfortable, and it seemed like the ideal time to discuss issues that needed to be discussed. Unfortunately, this tendency didn’t make her husband eager to spend relaxed and quiet time with her. It only made him wary of what she'd bring up next.
So, at this point we may feel really stuck. Perhaps we would be tempted to blame the husband for being too immature or preoccupied to handle what needs to be done.
Maybe! But maybe, just maybe, like any human being, he doesn’t want to be blamed or criticized anymore than you or I would.
Perhaps there is something more to having a successful conversation around a delicate topic than finding the right time or dancing around the word 'you'.
And perhaps there is another way of approaching conversations that normally would end in an argument differently so that the argument is no longer inevitable.
And perhaps, if you do find yourself in an argument, there is a way you can end it at will, as soon as you catch yourself!
Bluma was locked in an argument with her husband that was going round and round. They had left late for a trip, and her husband wanted her to take responsibility for barely making it on time for shabbos. She was trying to explain the list of things that she needed to do before leaving, and also, that she really needed his help before leaving the house. He had come home from shacharis at exactly the time they were supposed to leave, and hadn’t taken into account the last minute items to round up, the final clean up and loading the kids and stuff into the van. He insisted that she was too focused on the clean up and disregarded the fact that shabbos was coming and that that was more important than an empty sink. She disagreed, saying that if he had put his energy into helping her clean up instead of criticizing and questioning what she wanted done, they would have been finished quickly with time to spare! He said that she wasn’t respecting him. He wanted to leave by 10 o’clock, and she completely disregarded their schedule. If she would have acknowledged the time, he would have assured her that he’d help her when they’d come back. She said that they’d be tired when they’d come back, and she didn’t want to come home to bugs...And so it went.
Stopping an argument of this nature or another will depend on specific principles. When these principles are called into play, the energy between the couple will shift into greater connection and satisfying resolutions. There are 13 of these principles, and each are based in the Chassidus of how the Male/ Female relationship is built to work.
Principal number one is I choose to trust the connection.
Questioning connection calls the connection into question, while trusting connection builds connection.
It is tempting to try and build connection by highlighting where you feel it is missing. After all, who doesn’t like to feel reassured that they are loved and cared for! This might work for the first time or two early in a relationship. But it gets old really fast.
Sara was really upset at the way her husband was treating her. He hadn’t acknowledged her all day, and when they finally were ready to call it a night, he wanted intimacy and then promptly fell asleep. Hurt, she grabbed her blanket and pillow and left their bedroom to go sleep on the couch. Like she hoped, her husband realized how much she was hurt, (apparently she made some noise as she exited), and came downstairs to convince her to come back to their room. It felt really good to see how much he cared, especially when he apologized and held her close. A couple weeks later she again felt rejected and left the room. It worked, and she was reassured that her husband really did care. But then came the night, she was feeling hurt and disregarded, but this time when she left the room, her husband stayed in bed. She woke up in the morning feeling disoriented and achy, and hopping mad that her husband could care less.
Much of Tanya deals with how to build a relationship with Hashem. Specifically how to activate and cultivate feelings of love and connection. Our beings are designed in the image of Hashem, and our relationships as well. Hashem is called our ‘groom’, and we are called His ‘bride’. It is not a coincidence or cute comparison. Rather, just like by looking within we can learn about the greatness of Hashem (מבשרי אחזה אלוקה), and by looking at how a human couple connects, we learn how passionate and powerful our connection with Hashem can be (שיר השירים), we can also do the inverse. By looking at how we build a relationship with Hashem, we can gain insight and direction into how we can build a relationship with our husbands.
There are two main categories of love that Tanya explores. One is the love that is created through deep contemplation about the greatness of Hashem, and simultaneously recognizing His tremendous love and care for me. The love that is created through this type of focused thinking is intense. But not everyone is capable of creating such love. Perhaps they don’t connect powerfully with their thinking and can only imagine that they are feeling a feeling, but the feeling is not really real. Or perhaps they are not learned enough to even know what to think in the first place! To that end, there is the second type of love that the Alter Rebbe describes as the ‘natural, inborn, hidden love’ that every Jew has by virtue of him having a neshamah. Being that we naturally have self love, we naturally love Hashem because He is part of us. Just knowing and acknowledging that we already love Hashem because He is part of us, helps us to feel connected and do what it takes to strengthen the connection, and at least not do things that will disconnect us.
Same with our relationship with our husbands. There is a powerful way to create feelings of love and connection by thinking deeply and focusing on what is special and great in our husbands. And then to appreciate all the ways that he shows love and care to us. This is the ideal love! But sometimes it is hard to see what is special and great in the man we married, and it is even harder to find ways that he’s shown care recently. And then we can feel stuck. A lot of women when faced with this principle will insist, but he doesn’t care! How can I trust the connection when there is none?
Here is where we need to access the second type of love. Marriage is not just a ceremony or a commitment. It is actually a process of reuniting 2 neshamos that were once one, and were split into two bodies- male and female. So you actually share a soul. And once you have undergone the chuppah process, your souls are connected unless forcibly disconnected through a kosher get. It doesn’t matter how many layers of anger, hurt, and disconnect have come between you over the years. Your husband is actually part of you, like your own neshama is part of you, because your marriage has reunited your souls.
Just like with Hashem, it doesn’t matter how far a Jew may stray, he is always deeply connected, and can access this hidden inner love in a second, such as when faced with a situation of mesiras nefesh. A couple will often have a similar response when faced with a sudden threat of losing the other.
So when you don’t see the connection, here is where “I choose to trust the connection”. And when we trust that the connection is already there, just like our love with Hashem, we can begin to act on it which in turn creates more connection.
So how do you stop an argument mid sentence?
There’s a dialogue in Chapter 14 of Tanya that we can say to ourselves when faced with temptation in the heat of the moment- I love this dialogue!!!!!
אֵינֶנִּי רוֹצֶה לִהְיוֹת רָשָׁע אֲפִילוּ שָׁעָה אַחַת,
כִּי אֵינֶנִּי רוֹצֶה לִהְיוֹת מוּבְדָּל וְנִפְרָד חַס וְשָׁלוֹם מֵה' אֶחָד בְּשׁוּם אוֹפֶן, כְּדִכְתִיב: "עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם מַבְדִּילִים וְגוֹ'",
רַק אֲנִי רוֹצֶה לְדָבְקָה בוֹ נַפְשִׁי רוּחִי וְנִשְׁמָתִי, בְּהִתְלַבְּשָׁן בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה לְבוּשָׁיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ,
שֶׁהֵם: מַעֲשֶׂה דִּבּוּר וּמַחֲשָׁבָה בַּה' וְתוֹרָתוֹ וּמִצְוֹתָיו,
מֵאַהֲבָה מְסוּתֶּרֶת שֶׁבְּלִבִּי לַה', כְּמוֹ בְּלֵב כְּלָלוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ "אוֹהֲבֵי שְׁמֶךָ",
וַאֲפִילוּ קַל שֶׁבְּקַלִּים יָכוֹל לִמְסוֹר נַפְשׁוֹ עַל קְדוּשַּׁת ה', וְלֹא נוֹפֵל אָנֹכִי מִמֶּנּוּ בְּוַדַּאי,
אֶלָּא שֶׁנִּכְנַס בּוֹ רוּחַ שְׁטוּת, וְנִדְמֶה לוֹ שֶׁבַּעֲבֵירָה זוֹ עוֹדֶנּוּ בְּיַהֲדוּתוֹ וְאֵין נִשְׁמָתוֹ מוּבְדֶּלֶת מֵאֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל,
וְגַם, שׁוֹכֵחַ אַהֲבָתוֹ לַה' הַמְסוּתֶּרֶת בְּלִבּוֹ,
אֲבָל אֲנִי, אֵינֶנִּי רוֹצֶה לִהְיוֹת שׁוֹטֶה כָּמוֹהוּ לִכְפּוֹר הָאֱמֶת.
To paraphrase, the person in a moment of heat gets a hold of himself and takes a stand- “I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to disconnect! I love Hashem. I would die rather than deny Hashem’s unity! Why would I want to give in to this temporary passion, when my real truth is connection to the Aibeshter!”
So in that moment of passion, mid argument, when it is so tempting to prove that your husband is in the wrong, stop! What do you really want? Usually what we women REALLY want is connection! Challenging the connection is usually just an effort to get that proof of connection and an opportunity for him to prove that he does care. So instead of challenging and jeopardizing your connection, how would it be to actually do what it takes to connect? So lean on the fact that you are already connected, and trust that your husband actually cares. Then, find value in what he is communicating, and get down to what it is that you actually want to result from this conversation. That might sound something like this- (to use Bluma’s example) “Wait, I don’t want to do this. Of course you care about me and what I want. (establishing trust in the connection). I apologize for implying that you don’t care. (now find the value)- And you just wanted to get there with enough time before shabbos so we would not be cutting it by the skin of our teeth! Thank you! I appreciate how careful you are with shabbos. Than pause. In that pause, your husband will be surprised. He may try to push his point and say, “yeah, it was not responsible to waste time cleaning when every minute we wait doubles our traffic time on a friday afternoon!” - He may throw a couple of jabs, but here you stay with your stand in your connection and his value- “I hear you! Traffic is really bad Friday afternoon. We didn’t have much wiggle room. I so respect your priorities!”. A couple passes of finding and reflecting the value back to your husband will be all you’ll need. Chances are, at this point, you will be surprised! Because in the willingness to trust the connection, and find the value in what he is sharing, something new will show up. Just like with Hashem, our Bitachon, our trust, elicits greater protection, trusting our connection with our husbands will elicit a desire on his end to reciprocate that trust. At this point the argument will end. That’s it? No buts? Yes. That’s where we pause. Because by trusting that your husband does care, and by appreciating the value of what he was trying to share, you have effectively stopped the argument. Not only do you stop the argument, chances are that trusting that he cares about you wanting to leave the house clean will go a lot further towards him feeling motivated rather than pressured to clean up the next time you leave. It will also give you perspective, that given that he actually does care, there must be something really important he is trying to communicate by not encouraging the clean up. And then, in the moment as you are packing, you can share much more effectively- “I would love to leave the house clean. And I respect how important it is that we get there on time! (notice I didn’t say, it’s really important to you. When sharing value, share it purely without implying that this is important to him and not independently important). What do you think?” So how do you stop an argument mid sentence? Stop. Establish connection. Find and reflect value. That’s it. The connection is, actually he does care about me and what I want. The value is, what is valuable about his position. Reflecting value is saying that value back to him with appreciation. Let’s walk through some more examples. Baila’s husband wanted her to host his parents who were dealing with a medical issue for 2 weeks. Baila knew that doing so would severely compromise her ability to function properly. They would have to move their baby into their room to make space, and going 2 weeks without sleep was daunting. Also, her husband had a demanding work schedule and she knew that caring for them would be very time consuming as she would be alone. She tried to suggest that his parents would be more comfortable with another of his siblings, but her husband disagreed, and besides, why give up on the mitzvah? Baila felt really hurt that he was putting his parents’ comfort over hers and said so. Baila’s husband got upset and insisted that it was the right thing to do, and that it wasn’t such a big deal. Baila felt really dismissed and stuck. Maybe if it had been during the year she would have been able to make it work because she’d have more resources and extra sleeping space. But in their summer rental she just knew it would be extremely stressful. So Baila did some principles work on trusting the connection and finding value. She realized that of course her husband cared about her. He got her this beautiful summer rental just so that she’d be comfortable and enjoy the summer! And the value in his idea was an excellent one. Kibbud av v’eim is a value we refer to every day in davening as one that brings tremendous reward in this world and the next. Not only was it a tremendous value, but it also was a beautiful example for their children to see. AND, trusting that he cared about her needs, she ALSO got to share what she wanted to enjoy over the summer and asked for his input. All of that sounded something like this, “I admire your commitment to kibbud av veim! (value) You are such an example for our children. (value) I so appreciate how much you have done for me this summer so that I’d enjoy and be comfortable. (trusting connection- she is his priority!) I would love to not worry about cooking meals, and to sleep well. (her simple desire) What do you think?” Turns out, his parents weren’t able to come in the end because they needed to stay in the rehab longer anyways. But the fact that she was willing to genuinely respect her husband, recognize that he does value and care for her comfort, and then trust him to help her come up with a viable solution for her needs, did wonders for their sholom bayis! Back to Dina's story with her husband leaving things around- she learned to lean into the principles, and now instead of confronting him, she looked inside and realized that each time he left something out or around, she interpreted it to mean that he was absentminded and careless. When she examined that belief, she recognized, that her husband's job actually required tremendous precision and attention to detail. So him being absentminded and careless was simply not true. Yes, sometimes he left things around, but without the stressful meaning attached, she was free to appreciate her husband and all his fine qualities, and treat putting the milk away as just that, a 2 second task.
Sara learned to see her husband's desire for intimacy as an expression of his desire to connect. Rather than make it all about him and feeling hurt and resentful, she began to say- thank you for coming to connect! Even though you are so tired, you are still making time with me. Her husband was relieved that she recognized his intent, and was extra tender. Which is what she wanted anyways.
Similarly, Miriam felt used when her husband approached her for intimacy at night. He never made time for her the way she liked it, and would do his thing and leave. She felt like she could be anyone and it wouldn’t matter. There were times she tried to share what she would like, and they just ended up getting into an argument, with her husband insisting that she was being controlling, and her insisting that he just didn’t care. Eventually she saw that trying to show her husband what she would like, or turning a cold shoulder when he approached her the way he would, just wasn’t working to bring her any closer to what she wanted, which was a rich, intimate connection. Then she learned how to trust the connection. Instead of assuming that him coming to her was devoid of connection, she began treating it as the connection that it was! So instead of stiffening when he’d come to her bed, she relaxed and said, ‘ooh! You’re coming to connect!” everything he did, she interpreted in the light of connection. So when he’d reach for an area that she had told him for 10 years was not something she liked right away, she whispered, ‘you just can’t get enough of me!” and leaned into it, -or even moved his hand- but the energy was different. Instead of frustration, there was appreciation. She created safety and connection by treating the fact that he was reaching for her as being all about her instead of accusing him for making it all about him. The results came pretty quickly. Feeling received, instead of judged and rejected, her husband began to slow down. But even when he didn’t, she found that she could actually enjoy it because she wasn’t so busy with the negative tapes that used to play in her head! Shira’s son was home from yeshiva for a shabbos off. He was supposed to catch a bus back to yeshiva at 2:30 that afternoon. Shira wanted to take him out for his birthday, and planned to drive him to yeshiva when they were finished. Unfortunately, the day did not go so smoothly, and by the time she managed to leave the house with the little ones, not only had he missed the bus, but even with driving him he’d get there 2 hours late. Just then her husband called and was furious. He criticized her sharply for neglecting to get him back on time and told her to send him immediately in a taxi. Hurt, she wanted to blame her husband for not making their son a priority either, as she had suggested they take him out together the night before, and he had refused. If he had agreed to go out together, than for sure her son would have caught the bus that day! However, she realized that doing so would just make a hurtful situation more hurtful and so she chose to hear his heart message and trust the connection. ‘I know you are not out to blame me,’ she said, “and I appreciate how much you value seder in yeshiva”. Her husband softened. He confirmed that seder yeshiva was extremely important, and then he surprised her by saying that he didn’t expect her to do everything herself, and that if she found herself in such a situation where she saw that she wouldn’t be able to keep a commitment, to please call him and ask for help! He didn’t want her to have to face these decisions alone. Shira was able to hear her husband’s concern for their son, and for her. A volatile argument was easily averted with both parents feeling heard and appreciated.