• Dr. D

Why Do You Always Lose the Fight?


Jenny, 16, was sobbing. She and her father had just been fighting in my office.


He called the girl a “a mean mouthed crappy kid,” “disobedient bitch,” and said, “she’s a total loser.”


She screamed, ”You never listen. You don’t give a shit about me or anything except your stupid beer and football…”


I asked him to leave the room so the girl and I could talk.


“What would happen if you didn’t say anything when he starts calling you names?” I asked Jenny once her father was gone.


Jenny jerked upright. “You’re taking his side!”


“I’m not taking a side. I’m just asking what you think would happen if you just didn’t fight?”


“He’d think he won. He’d think he was right,” she shouted at me.


“So what would it mean to ‘win’?” I asked. “Does anybody ever ‘win’ these fights now?”

Jenny teared up again, shaking her head. “We keep fighting and it just gets worse.”


“When two people fight, they get louder. The louder they get, the more intense things become. But it’s hard to argue when someone won’t shout back. And it’s hard to keep yelling if no one responds."


“Now sometimes,” I admitted, “things get worse for a while. Both people are used to things getting more heated and when one person won’t fight back, the other may try harder to provoke a reaction. But if you keep up the calmness usually the other person will get tired of it and quit."


“The louder somebody gets,” I explained, “the quieter I get. It’s hard to escalate when no one pushes back.


“Try it,” I suggested. “You’ve got nothing to lose. You’re miserable with the way things are going now.”


Jenny was suspicious, but agreed to try.


A month later Jenny came in by herself, flung herself into a chair, and gave me an enormous smile.


“Well? Did you try it? Did you try just not responding?” I asked.


She absolutely chortled. “Ab-so-LOOTly!”


“And?”


“He couldn’t keep going,” She told me. “ He’d start to get mean and call me names and I just sat there. So he’d get louder and more vicious, but I didn’t say anything. So then he’d get so mad he’d just slam out of the room and go away.


“So it worked?”


She nodded her head as hard as she could. “And he was SO PISSED!! He was turning purple and all I could do was laugh.”


What is a fight?

Not every discussion is a disagreement.


Not every disagreement is an argument.


And not every argument is a fight.


Each different level of communication comes with an increasing level of emotion. And of purpose.


We can discuss things with little or no emotion. We could chat about an upcoming show and talk about whether to attend the matinee or the evening performance. No hurt feeling. No high emotions.


Perhaps we’re not sure what time to go to the show. One person might say the cast is too tired by the time eight o’clock rolls arounds, while the other says they’ve never seen that. There isn’t a lot of emotion expressed. Just a difference of opinion, a disagreement, where no one gets upset.


But the disagreement could lead to an argument. Maybe I think the 2 PM is far superior to the eight o’clock. You could counter that the audiences are more “alive” in the evening and the actors clearly play to that energy, making this the better performance to see.


Our intention here is to convince the other person that we’re right. The opinions are stronger. We hear more feeling in the comments, but there is no intention to harm the other person verbally or physically.


But a full blown fight can develop. Emotions and a desire to hurt the other person show themselves. “You always think you’re right! I don’t like the lousy actors they have in the afternoon performance. This just shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.” “The only taste you have is in your mouth. You wouldn’t know good acting if it bit you in the butt!”


Why are you fighting?

Sometimes the subject we seem to be fighting about isn’t the real issue at all. Maybe we’re upset about something else. Maybe we’re irritated by the person we’re fighting with.


It’s good to step back mentally, even for a moment, and ask the question, “Is this really important? Is it important enough to hurt someone else about?”


And if the answer to these questions is “no,” it’s time to stop.


What is ‘winning’?

If a fight is an argument that grew heated and is focused on ‘winning,’ at any cost, it helps to know what it means to ‘win’. What is it we hope to gain from the fight?


Sometimes we’re so much in the habit of fighting with a specific person that it almost doesn’t matter what they say. We’re going to disagree.


Again, it can be a good idea to stand back and review what’s been said and decide whether continuing a fight is worth it or not. And in the case where there’s no good end in sight, sometimes it’s better to say nothing.


I’ve disarmed many situations where a patient is becoming verbally aggressive, shouting, calling me names or making outrageous comments to me, by saying nothing.


No response can be a total shock in a case like that. In those situations, it isn’t uncommon for someone to challenge me to say something. In that case, I may shrug my shoulders and say “I don’t have anything to say.” Or I might ask, “Is there anything that I could say that would make a difference to you?”


The other person might be frustrated, but usually they’ll stop the fight since it isn’t going anywhere.


Consider these things when you fight

Take a deep breath, then answer the questions:

1. Why am I fighting?

2. What do I hope will happen as a result of this fight?

3. What does it mean to ‘win’ this fight?

4. Does fighting make me feel good? Or even more upset?


If you can't answer most of the questions, or the answer to number four is it makes you feel worse, it may be time to stop and take that breath. And stop fighting.


Image of people arguing by:© Can Stock Photo Inc. / yelet