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Get Off the Not So Merry-Go-Round of Arguing and Arguing

Amusement park rides can be exhilarating and lots of fun for young and old alike. However, disagreements that seem to spin out of control faster than we know what the heck just happened can feel more like a ride in a house of horrors. They often lead to hurt feelings and avoidance of talking about concerns, until a certain look or comment triggers the switch and the ride on the not so merry-go-round of arguing and arguing begins again.

Why do we get upset when someone disagrees with us? It may be because we:

  • take a disagreement personally
  • react to a particular tone of voice and become defensive
  • react to certain words and go on the offensive
  • are uncomfortable with disagreements

The main reason is that we are human, and human interactions can be challenging. Repeated heated arguments over disagreements can frequently be prevented by coping with emotions, yours and theirs, staying in the present and having a few ground rules about communication.

Dealing with Emotions, Yours and Theirs

For thousands of years parables have depicted aspects of the human condition. One of these from India tells about three blind men who begin arguing after approaching an elephant for the first time. The first one walks into the side of the elephant and announces, “It’s like a wall.” The second one approaches it from the front, grasping its trunk, and states, “It’s very much like a large snake.” While the third feels the tail and insists it is rope-like. Each of them is correct yet none are entirely accurate.

What happens when we attempt to prove our point of view to someone and our emotions impede our ability to understand another perspective? While a vigorous debate can, at times, be invigorating, it usually leaves each person feeling frustrated, angry and misunderstood. Depending upon the nature of the relationship or topic, heated disagreements often result in hurt feelings and closed minds. Recognizing that emotions are both the blessings and challenges of being human can help shape our interactions with others in more meaningful ways.

Keep It in the Present — Leave Ancient History to the Archaeologists

Rehashing old issues can be like picking on a scab — the more you pick at them the more inflamed they can become. As tempting as it may be to bring up unresolved disagreements, the past cannot be changed. And the more time has passed the less likely for accurate recollections.

Recycling old disagreements is much more likely to get each of you back on the not-so-merry-go-round of arguing than it is to resolve anything. Use the present as an opportunity to build upon what you have learned about what hasn’t worked, and instead of trying harder and harder, try a new approach. Writing down your recent concern and emotions on paper or in an electronic device can help you process your thoughts and feelings in a more objective and effective manner. It also gives you an opportunity to not have to rely solely on memory. Remember that the purpose of this is to help improve communication and not to “keep score” of who is right and who is wrong.

A Few Ground Rules about Communicating

  • take a time-out when you or each of you are about to lose your temper
  • one person talking at a time
  • don’t try harder, instead take one concern at a time

Time-Outs: When It’s Better Not to Continue to Talk About Your Concerns

In retrospect all of us have had those times when we regretted what we said or how we said something in the heat of the moment. Using a time-out when one or more persons are starting to lose their cool can be very effective in preventing the escalation of anger and frustration that often leads to feeling overwhelmed with increased anger, emotional pain and even hopelessness. At a calm, or relatively calm moment, discuss the guidelines for a time-out.1

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  • Anyone can call a time-out if they feel they are about to say something they may later regret or if the other person is beginning to lose their temper.   
  • Calling a time-out is not being disrespectful, provided that one doesn’t overuse this technique and, within a reasonable period of time, will try to discuss the concern in a more constructive manner. Calling a time-out is actually about respecting yourself and the other person. Preventing the escalation of heated, painful arguments helps to strengthen and nurture relationships. A reasonable period of time may be a few minutes, hours or even a few days when each person has been able to compose themselves and think more clearly.
  • When calling a time-out it is very important not to explain, at this time, why you are calling a time-out. Explaining why will usually lead to an argument about, “Why I don’t want to argue with you … because you can be so unreasonable and stubborn” … and here we go again.  
  • When calling a time-out physically separate yourself from the other person(s) in as respectful manner as possible by going into another room or outside, weather permitting. Doing so may be uncomfortable at first, but if you stay in the same room the argument will most likely continue! Wait until later to discuss a time to resume the discussion.  
  • When someone calls a time-out the other person doesn’t have to be in agreement with the timing of the time-out. The other person can continue to argue, if they choose to, but without you present.

Like most anything else, it takes some time and practice to remember to use this very helpful technique. Even if you don’t remember to use it until after an uncomfortable argument, the fact that you did remember is progress. After a while, you may be pleasantly surprised to find others calling a time-out before you think to and, sometimes to your initial irritation, calling a time-out when you want to keep arguing.

One Person Talking at a Time

Interrupting another person is one of the quickest ways of triggering an argument. It suggests you aren’t listening to what they are saying and it disrupts their train of thought. As emotions escalate listening and reasoning take a back seat to talking at each other instead of with each other. Positive and brief statements such as, “Please wait until I am done and then I can listen to your comments and give them my full attention,” are more likely to be heard and received in a less-defensive manner than “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking!”

Don’t Try Harder, Instead Take One Concern at a Time

Our brains function more effectively when we focus on one thing at a time. Repeated studies suggest that multi-tasking, trying to do more than one thing at a time, is less efficient as concentration decreases and stress increases.2 Discussions can rapidly escalate when each person reacts with additional points and counter-points like a heated tennis match where opponents continuously add numerous balls into play. When additional concerns get brought up in a discussion, positive and brief reminders such as, “Can we talk about one issue at a time? When we are done we will then be able to focus on a concern you wish to discuss,” are more likely to be heard in a more open and less-defensive manner than, “You are changing the subject just like you always do!

You can get off the not so merry-go-round of arguing and arguing by knowing when it’s best not to talk, by having a few basic ground rules for constructive communicating and more effectively coping with emotions, yours and theirs.3 Recognize and embrace that being human is challenging and imperfect and that none of us has all of the answers in life nor do we have to. Keep learning … each of us is a work in progress.


  1. DeSantis, Richard, P. PhD, Manney, Gerald, J., MS, LADC I, Suspended Adolescence, Suspended Adolescence Publishing, 2007,
  2. Aalto University. “Movie research results: Multitasking overloads the brain: The brain works most efficiently when it can focus on a single task for a longer period of time.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2017. Retrieved from
  3. Manney, Gerald, J., MS, LADC I, You Don’t Have To Go To Every Argument You Are Invited To, self help book in progress.
Get Off the Not So Merry-Go-Round of Arguing and Arguing

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Gerald J. “Jerry” Manney, MS, LADCI

Jerry Manney presented at three Joint Meetings on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness (JMATE) national conferences in Washington, DC and has been a guest lecturer at numerous colleges and The University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses for seventeen years. Jerry is currently working on his next book, You Don’t Have To Go To Every Argument You Are Invited To, practical strategies to manage disagreements before they escalate into heated verbal battles, as well coping with strong emotions that are the great blessings and the great challenges of being human. Follow Jerry at [email protected].

APA Reference
Manney, G. (2019). Get Off the Not So Merry-Go-Round of Arguing and Arguing. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 12, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Sep 2019 (Originally: 14 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Sep 2019
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