“One of the greatest predictors of divorce”: how to better argue


Emile Sherman has learned the hard way the price to pay to win arguments.

“I spent my childhood arguing with my sister … I took opposing points of view and danced with a whole range of different points of view that I’m not even sure I ever really believed.” , says the Oscar-winning producer behind films including The King’s Speech and Lion.

He loved the thrill of “arguing on the other side” and knew how to push his buttons. (He once argued that “elephants love to be in zoos.”)

“He massively damaged [our relationship], damaged trust, and she felt that I wasn’t taking her seriously, that I wasn’t there [in conversation] in good faith, ”Sherman says of his childhood relationship with his sister, Ondine Sherman, an animal rights activist. Now, he says, they have a good relationship and are “able to get rid of our own views.”

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But experience and an insatiable intellectual curiosity taught Sherman, 49, the importance of being “more generous” in the way he speaks with people of opposing views, and helped inspire a passion for explore what we lose when we are not, and what we would stand to gain if we all were. What would happen, he wondered, if we were to seek to understand the stronger version of the other point of view, to find the truth of a case, instead of fighting fighting for it? ” to win ” ? (This is an ethical methodology unknown, no doubt, to most lovers of philosophy and ethics.)

This is why Sherman, although his schedule is usually loaded with ideas with Nicole Kidman (who starred in Lion) and Jane Campion (with whom he collaborated on the television series Top of the lake), took a long time to create a new podcast, Principle of charity – with his cousin Dr Lloyd Vogelman, a self-proclaimed “extremist on the mend”.

Each episode – there have been four – brings together experts with opposing views to discuss a variety of topics, from whether pornography is inherently demeaning to women, to whether it is moral to eat pornography. meat. The catch: Each expert must present the most generous version of the other person’s point of view.

He has already gained top-level fans. “It’s really uplifting and inspiring,” musical comedian Tim Minchin said on Twitter. Sherman and Vogelman think that if more of us spoke like this, it could change the world dramatically. (More on this soon.)

People who have difficulty seeing other people's perspectives are more likely to have low self-esteem.

Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

People who have difficulty seeing other people’s perspectives are more likely to have low self-esteem.

But for clinical psychologist Tamara Cavenett, tackling conversations like this could also help save our relationships which the latest research shows are more strained than they have been in a long time, with research showing that Pandemic stressors have been associated with lower relationship satisfaction, interrupted sex lives, higher conflict, increasing rates of domestic violence, and higher levels of parenting stress leading to harsher parenting styles.

“Absolutely, and unfortunately, it’s very true,” said Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society, that people are arguing more than before and are experiencing an increase in family disputes, due to the pandemic and of the financial uncertainty and anxiety she has. created. In addition to arguments over eternal issues such as major life decisions, housework, and money, some couples Cavenett now sees are also arguing over social distancing, masks, and ‘who does the right thing and who. does not ”.

This creates what many have noted as a particularly “garish” time.

Certain types of arguing styles that she sees are particularly damaging. “Contempt is a good example – when you give someone that kind of disrespectful, mocking, or ridiculous body language,” Cavenett explains. “It is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.”

And “push to win” in an argument – rather than presenting our views and allowing the other person to express theirs, and working to consider their point of view in a collaborative “us” mentality – often leads to resentment.

Many people who refuse or have difficulty seeing another person’s point of view hide low self-esteem and an often associated low ability to admit they are wrong. (People with this disposition sometimes have a childhood history of not being listened to or encouraged to communicate their emotions.)

But being that way also has intellectual drawbacks.

“The people who do the best for scientific and economic forecasts” – who predict what will happen on the stock market or in a future election – “are the people who are less confident,” says Vogelman, owner of a law firm. Sydney business consultant and former apartheid anti-activist, referring to the work of University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock, who has studied “super forecasters” for 30 years. “Because they look for things a little more, test things a little more. “

But, how can we generously discuss opposing opinions, when someone is really annoying us? Or are they defending a position that we find frightening?

The contemptuous fighting style - when you laugh at or ridicule your partner in an argument - is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.

123rf / stuff

The contemptuous fighting style – when you laugh at or ridicule your partner in an argument – is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.

Cavenett says we should aim to understand what life experiences led them to a particular point of view or behavior, to try to capture their point of view, to speak quietly, without attacking – making requests instead of complaints, and avoid sentences that start with “You always…. – and call time out, if we need to calm down. (And allow our partner to do that, too.) Equally important: spending time “fixing” the bond with the other person and enjoying moments of positive connection with them outside of arguments.

No one says it’s easy.

“I mean I’m in a marriage, a fairly recent marriage which I would say at the age of 60 is the first time I’ve been in a relationship with someone where we can disagree and we can talk about it, ”says Catherine Lumby, a media professor at the University of Sydney, who appeared on one of the podcast episodes.

Her inability to discuss amicably through disagreements before, she says, contributed to the breakdown of her 18-year de facto relationship with the father of her two children.

And be sure Principle of charity Equally revealing was with longtime opponent and Charles Sturt University ethics professor Clive Hamilton – to discuss whether there is “good pornography or whether it is inherently demeaning to women”.

“I felt misunderstood, misrepresented and that he had no respect for me,” Lumby says of her historic view of Hamilton – who once called her “naive” and “so enamored of the liberating possibilities. porn that she refuses to recognize as obscure. side ”in print.“ In turn, I had labeled Clive, I think, as someone who was very controversial and had a paternalistic view of women and children. “

“What surprised me is that I think we largely agree,” she said. (She has often viewed ethical and respectful “eroticism” as a valuable means of sexual expression. Hamilton has long viewed pornography as destructive and degrading to women.) “We both agreed that there is really heinous pornography, the question [is] what do you do about it… Now, if I were to run into Clive, I would want to have a glass of wine with him afterwards. (Hamilton says he felt less “uncompromising” with Lumby’s point of view than he had previously been, as a result of their conversation.)

This is the kind of growth, says Sherman, which, if experienced en masse, could change the world for the better by creating a society that has “better ideas” and “better principles,” resulting from people with better principles. opposing views realizing that the best idea – the truth about an issue – might lie somewhere in the middle.

“We could end up with better ideas on how to handle the COVID epidemic… how we think about who should be incarcerated, euthanasia.”

For now, however, he says his own life has been enriched by understanding his own “blind spots” and “privilege” as a white man, especially taking on film and television projects that don’t. than “bringing social issues to the fore. judges ”, but do so by“ giving the microphone to marginalized voices, so they can tell whatever stories they want ”.

“It was a wake-up call,” he says, adding that it led to his latest project, Fire bite, a “Vampire TV Series” directed by acclaimed Native Australian director Warwick Thornton and starring “as many native actors and crews as possible”, about two native hunters on a quest to battle the last colony of vampires in the desert of South Australia. “It’s really exciting to tell stories … It wouldn’t have happened and has not happened before, because there just hasn’t been that much emphasis on the value of the Indigenous perspective. “

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