What’s the Difference Between an Argument and a Discussion?

When the goal of an argument is to win, it's already lost.

One thing that I have determined throughout my experience at Cassie Reid Counseling and as the director of Marriage and Family Therapy at The King’s University is that yelling doesn’t work. Although this may seem rudimentary to most, it is actually more important and beneficial than one might realize. Lately, I have been trying to determine what the difference is between an argument and a discussion. My most recent research has focused on the actual answers I have been given from clients. 

I have gotten a plethora of different responses. One likened the argument to a fight in that someone wins and loses, while others have told me that arguments are usually hostile and discussions are calmer. From my own experiences as a wife and a counselor, I feel that I finally have a grasp on what the fundamental difference is between an argument and a discussion. 

It’s the volume level. When an argument occurs, one individual typically raises their voice while the other person feels it necessary to raise their own voice even more. I often refer to this scenario as an argument escalation. On the one hand it seems like each individual is trying to dominate the other during the conversation and on the other hand it seems possible that the one raising their voice the most feels as though they are being heard the least. For whatever reason, the volume increases and the seemingly harmful discussion turns into an all-out verbal—and sometimes physical—fight. 

The reason yelling in an argumentative fashion doesn’t work is that feelings get hurt and eventually there is a winner and a loser. Inevitably, at least in a marriage or serious long term relationship you both lose. Even if one wins the argument, they have successfully wounded their partner emotionally and they lose out on something much greater. 

Instead of winning the argument and hurting the spouse, I suggest that we attempt to have discussions instead. Instead of raising our voices or fists at one another we should challenge ourselves to engage in a calm, reasonable discussion in which compromise occurs and everyone walks away with something. Ephesians 5:25 calls husbands to love their wives just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Although this may seem easier said than done, God gives us an opportunity to grow in our relationships by honoring our spouse each and every day just as He honored and sacrificed so much for the Church.