Esther Perel - Fight Smarter - Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns - Transcript

Below is the edited transcript of the video.

Question:

Once in a while I’m late and my boyfriend takes it so personally. I can understand why he gets upset, but he blows it way out of proportion. This triggers our biggest fights. How can I convince him it is not about him?

There is so much in this question. So many different dynamics of the way people fight.

confirmation bias

First, this notion that you decide that it is way out of proportion.

In arguments and in hurts, I suggest that you do not think of yourself as the person who has the right measurement stick on what is worthy of being upset about and what is not. It never bodes well.

Second, there is something that we do in relationships that is really fascinating. We call it confirmation bias.

Your boyfriend has decided, for a host of reasons, probably quite a while back, that when you are late, you are doing this on purpose. You know how much it upset him, yet you are doing it again. So obviously you must not care about him, or respect him, to the degree that he thinks you should. Otherwise you would not be doing this.

The way confirmation bias works is that:

If your boyfriend has decided that you are purposefully dissing him, he is going to pick up all the pieces of evidence that prove that. The multiple times when you actually came early, the multiple times when you have been there on time, the multiple times when you have arranged specific special things, at that moment, will not matter, because they would challenge this idea.

Ask yourself why would your boyfriend persist in thinking of yourself as not caring about him when you are trying to convince him that you do? Why would we rather think that the other person does not love us, rather than be relieved by learning that this is not the case?

Because there is something in the way we organize reality.

confirmation bias gives us order. It gives me a sense that I know what is true. Even if what is true sucks, I still prefer to think that this is what is true, because at least it organizes my reality.

Very strange things that us human beings do.

What can you do to make this different?

Do not do:

Do:

context vs personality

When you are late, according to you, it is because you had circumstances that explain it. It is because you have a busy life. It is because you are an important person. It is because somebody else needed something from you.

It is circumstantial.

If your partner is late, it is because they are disrespectful. It is because they do not care about you. It is because they do not understand the notion of time. It is because they are selfish. It is because they are narcissistic.

Yours is circumstantial, theirs is characterological.

This notion that we have to attribute our flaws to general context, but to attribute the flaws of our partners to their internal structure and personality is one of the most amazing things we do in relationships.

It is like: “Mine is excusable, but yours is not. Mine is situational, yours is essential.”

It is a fabulous thing to watch people do this.

I suggest a good dose of humor when this happens.

always and never

One of the things that happens when couples are in conflict is that, by definition, conflict creates a contraction. It stiffens. There is no flexibility. There is no nuance. There is no possible. There is just categorical.

People instantly go into the: “You are always late. You always do this. You never care about what I say. You never show up when I need you to.”

It becomes factual, as if it really is the case.

One of the very important things to understand in couples communication is the fact that a lot of what is presented as fact is actually an intensification of someone's experience.

“I feel like you never show up” is not the same as “you never show up”.

Do not shift your feelings to pseudo-factual talk.

When you say to somebody “you never”, the first thing they are going to do is give you an example of the last time when they did. Just to prove you wrong. Just to dismantle the whole thing.

You say: “You never clean up. You never pick up the kids. You never write to me. You never call me.”

They say: “What about that time …”. And they show you one time, sometimes the only time, to refute your theory of them.

No one can take on such a full package condemnation.

The best thing you can say is: “It feels like that happens all the time. Probably you do not do it nearly as often as I think you do. But in this moment I do not see the other stuff. In this moment I just feel like it is just so annoying.”

You are allowed to be angry. You are allowed to be pissed. But you are not allowed in the same way to think that your experience is the reality or the truth.

It is the truth of your experience, but not necessarily the truth of what happens.

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Updated on 2021 Jul 8.

DISCLAIMER: This is not professional advice. The ideas and opinions presented here are my own, not necessarily those of my employer.