Struggling partners and divorcing spouses often find themselves caught up in what I call The Argument.

It’s an obsessive internal monologue — like a summation before imaginary jurors — that reviews everything that went wrong in the relationship.

It typically repeats the same painful questions (Where’d I go wrong?  Where did my partner?  Who’s the villain here? Who’s the victim?) and plays out alternative scenarios (What if x hadn’t happened?  If I had said or done this instead?) endlessly.

On the surface it’s an attempt to make sense of things.  Unconsciously it can be a way of assigning blame, self-punishing, or postponing grief over the death of the relationship.

For some people The Argument continues for years. However long it lasts, it makes moving on virtually impossible.

That’s because real closure and healing require you to

~ move beyond black/white, good guy/bad guy thinking to understanding cause and effect;

~ move beyond blaming to acceptance and to compassion, not just for the other person’s mistakes but for your own;

~ if the relationship has ended, mourn the loss of both the actual relationship and the dream of what you hoped it would become.

7 responses to “Argument

  • Phil

    When you move beyond the mentioned Do relationships always have a chance. Or is it usually over. And if you can’t succeed in one relationship how can you in others. Is it just who we are I see you took me up on my offer

  • Steve Hauptman

    Not all relationships can be saved, or should be. Some are doomed to fail, generally because of the (mostly unconscious) baggage the partners bring to them.

    But even healthy relationships are difficult and go through rough patches. Learning to create one is like learning to ride a bike — we have to do it wrong before we can do it right. The real question is whether we’re able and willing to learn from our mistakes and really work at it.

    • PD

      The relationship is better then before. We have been working real hard. The real progress has been the absence of alcohol It is easier to make head way. But I always question – should it always be this hard. But when I look back there has been Great progress Knowing where we are both from we have nothing to compare to. I will always be confused. Thanks Steve. Hopefully you will have more parenting pieces in the future

  • d00fus

    Sadly, I’m very stuck in The Argument. You may have realized this from my previous comments. But I have no idea what “real closure and healing” mean. I do not know how to get there.

    • Steve Hauptman


      ~ Be mindful. Notice when you slip into Arguing. Notice what triggers the urge to Argue. Then say to yourself — in a nonjudgmental way — “Oh, there I go again.” See below.

      ~ Verbalize. When you can, talk out The Argument with a safe person (i.e., someone who won’t judge or criticize or analyze or diagnose or tell you to just get over it). Verbalizing can drain energy from The Argument, while keeping it inside seems to give it more power.

      ~ Write. Some people find recording their thoughts helps to push them aside, at least for the moment. Writing can also (a) help you feel less helpless, and (b) track your progress by providing you a record of where you were last week at this time. You may find yourself saying, “Well, at least I’m not thinking THAT anymore.”

      ~ Have patience. The Argument is a natural part of healing for many people. But like a wound scabbing over, it takes some time to do its job. Give it the time it needs.

  • d00fus

    Thank you. I am doing # 2 and # 4. # 1 sounds like a good thing for me to do. I will try journaling also. (See this though:

  • Steve Hauptman

    David Sbarra warns against journaling, and I don’t disagree, since for some people that sort of writing can lead to persevoration. I was thinking more of writing as catharsis, venting thoughts and feelings to get yourself past rough moments. But I guess you’d have to try it to know whether in your case it helps or hurts.

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