Tyler called his girlfriend, Lindsey, who lived an hour away. He wanted to talk, but Lindsay said she wanted to finish watching a movie with her mother.
When the movie was finished, Lindsey called Tyler to talk, but he said, "I really do want to talk to you, sweetie, but right now I'm watching the end of the presidential debate."
"But you don't even like politics," she said, "so why would you want to watch a political debate? You don't even vote, so it seems ridiculous that you'd rather watch a debate than talk to me. Makes no sense."
"Okay, so I'm not very politically involved."
"But this debate has caught my interest. Seems to be like you're being critical and grumpy."
Lindsey began to raise her voice, but Tyler said, "Lindsey, I'm going to call Greg and get his advice on what to say, because I'm kind of lost here. I really don't know what to say."
Tyler called and told me what is written above, and then he said, "What am I supposed to say to her? I do almost exactly the same thing she does, but she feels justified, and I'm a villain."
"She's being irrational, to be sure," I said, "and over a great many years I have learned that you are never wise to attempt a rational discussion with an irrational person. Much as you never try to have a reasonable conversation with a drunk. It just doesn't work. Brief parenthetical comment: Telling her that she was critical and grumpy WHILE she was critical and grumpy probably wasn't a good idea. Same reasons."
"Okay, making sense so far, but she's waiting for me to call so she can demand an answer to why I want to watch a debate instead of talking to her."
"Yeah, I get it. When in doubt, always admit that you're wrong."
"So you're saying I'm wrong to watch the debate? When she wanted to watch a movie instead of talking to me, I said nothing. But she's right and I'm wrong? Am I supposed to be her slave?"
"Oh no, I didn't tell you WHAT to admit that you were wrong about. I just said that when you're in doubt—especially when the other person is behaving insanely—admit to being wrong. But what you admit has to be true."
"So I admit that it sounds small—almost trivial—but you could say something like this: 'Lindsey, you're right—[most people utterly adore being right, which of course you will NOT say to her]—I really don't usually have much of an interest in politics. That's probably irresponsible. I don't vote. Wrong again. Guilty as charged, darlin', but for reasons beyond me, I'm finding this debate interesting. It might even be hypocritical of me to watch a debate between two candidates when I'll probably vote for neither of them, but I still want to watch it. If you and I are going to have a healthy relationship, we can't force the other person to always explain things to the satisfaction of the other. We'll always have quirky differences that won't have a resolution. Sometimes when I call you, you ask me to call you back in a few minutes. You might just be in the bathroom. It doesn't matter, and I don't push you for the reason. The point is that you get to make your own decisions, and so do I. If you can't live with that, we might have to have a much more serious discussion than this one.'"
"And you think that will work?"
"Very likely, but if it doesn't, you would be wise to re-evaluate a relationship where you are held hostage to the whims and demands of your partner."
Don't argue with people you're in a relationship with. Just admit where you're wrong, and observe the other person's response. If they insist on being right at the expense of reason and intimacy, you might consider how deeply you want to be involved in the relationship.