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I am 21 years old male and live with my parents. My father and I both have a temper on us and had a lot of disagreements over the years, but they’ve always were settled quite amicably. However, recently, whenever I voice a disagreement with him, it turns into a huge argument, generally with him ending with some variation of

“you don’t agree with me on principle”

or

“you never agree with me because you don’t respect me”.

It progressed until the silliest things can set him off, for example

  • me not liking my own new haircut (I used to have long hair),
  • or not agreeing vehemently enough with his political views (I do agree with them, but calmly).

I find myself really stressed whenever I have to talk to him for fear of setting him off.

How can I convince him that having different views does not mean I disrespect him?

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    Is there any plan on the horizon for moving out? Have there been any life changing events recently? It may be that something else is in play in the background. – Bookeater Oct 28 '17 at 19:46
  • @Bookeater I am going to join the army for a year somewhere inside 2 months (it’s mandatory here), so I guess that counts? Also, about half a year ago I dropped out of university. – Rayv Oct 29 '17 at 4:52
  • Yes, and yes. Probably the combination. Would attending university have deferred/changed the army stint? He may actually be concerned that your life is going nowhere afterwards. (And he may be irritated how the interim period is playing out.) – Bookeater Oct 29 '17 at 6:52
  • It would have, it was half the reason I went to uni right out of high school. I really, really didn’t want to join, while my father believed it would miraculously “cure” my social anxiety. I still don’t care for it, but father is, obviously, pretty okay with it. – Rayv Oct 29 '17 at 7:47
  • Not posting this as an answer because I can't confirm whether this is the case for you, but the problem isn't necessarily yours. I was raised in an emotionally abusive home where disagreeing was inherently disrespectful and was treated with aggressive hostility (escalating to violence if I didn't yield). Everything you describe about your home life fits mine to a tee; but I do see that I may be filling in some blanks with my own experiences. However, because you say that that silliest things set him off, that makes me suspect that this is manipulative behavior from your father's side. – Flater Oct 30 '17 at 15:43
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I don't know what's going on with your dad, how new this is, if there are any other stressors in his life. It may be that your adulthood and impending independence is a threat to him. After all, he's always been your father and he's used to you needing him/his counsel/etc.

If nothing has changed, and nothing you've tried calms him down, you need to set a boundary. Boundaries are important for healthy relationships.

As an adult with a mind, you're allowed to have your own opinions. Refuse to have an argument with him. It's actually possible. It costs you something, but it's possible.

Next time he wants to "discuss" something you know is volatile, tell him calmly that you won't talk about that subject anymore. You want to convey that you still respect your father, so this has to be done with care.

Dad, I love you. I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but not everything. And because I love and respect you, It hurts me when we get into these huge arguments. So, I'm not going to discuss (x) with you anymore. I hope you understand that it's not because I don't respect your opinion. I do. It's just that we don't agree on everything, and I don't want to fight any more.

There's not a lot of things to come back on this with, but he'll probably find something if he's feeling negative. If he does come back with an argumentative statement or an accusation, repeat some variant of the same statement. Repeat until he stops, or you get up and move to a different part of the house.

Do this every time a particular subject comes up. Not most of the time, not when you're too tired to talk, but every time. Eventually the behavior will change.

I said it will cost you. You won't be able to have as many discussions with your dad as before. You will have to remove yourself even if it's inconvenient. You'll have to deal with his resistance. But if you keep the message the same, it should eventually work with most people. And you will both be in a better place.

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    Great advice, thank you. Father is very...opinionated. As in “I never say anything without proof, so everything I say is right”, and it can get pretty hard to convince him of stuff when the very act of trying to means to him I’m wrong. I can’t believe I never tried just accepting our opinions are different and leaving it at that. – Rayv Oct 29 '17 at 7:54
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    @Flater I'm removing this discussion. It's impossible for us to know all of the possible factors and it's utterly inappropriate for us to take stabs at potential underlying psychopathy. We're not therapists. This is not our patient. It is beyond our abilities to answer based on all possible factors outside the "norms". – Catija Oct 31 '17 at 15:03
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Small turns of phrase can make all the difference here. Disagreeing is harder than agreeing, so let's start with that. You should do X or you shouldn't have done X or every who does X (like you) is Y (a bad thing.) And you disagree. Compare these replies:

  • things have changed, Dad, and pretty much nobody thinks that anymore
  • I know that's how it used to be, but these days, it's more like ABC
  • I am not Y, as you know, and I like to X
  • I know better than to be Y, you raised me right. I don't think everyone who does X is Y. I'm certainly not

The first one is all about how wrong he is. The last one actively praises his parenting and reaffirms the thing he cares about (that you're not Y) while still asserting you want to X.

Same with agreeing. You can agree like this:

  • I guess you might have a point
  • I can see how you might feel that way
  • They should do that, I suppose, not that anything will really change
  • You're right, they should.
  • That's a really interesting angle on it. I think you're right
  • Putting it that way really brings out the key point. [Paraphrase what he said.]
  • Heh, I think I'll use that explanation next time we're arguing about this at [some place you go with your peers without him.] It really makes it clear.

Now obviously these don't apply to simple assertions of opinion, like "Politician A is an imbecile/criminal/embarrassment" or "Politician B is totally going to win the next election." But if he is sharing his logic or explaining a view, you can show that you're genuinely listening and that you think his points are valid.

Another way to show respect is not to interrupt, to let people finish their sentences and make their points. You can also pause a little while before replying. When people reply immediately, especially if their reply changes the subject a little, I hear "Oh good, she has stopped flapping her mouth, that means it's my turn to talk, here's what I think is important" Waiting a moment and responding to what he actually said to indicate that you were listening is more respectful. In a family situation this can be hard to do because both of you have made these same points many a time and you know where you Dad is going with his Politician A is an embarrassment speech and you would just like to cut that off and talk about something more interesting. But think about the response that causes in him.

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  • i think I wasn’t clear with the political example: when my father is, frankly, ranting again about Politician A and looks at me expectantly, I go “Yeah, he’s pretty bad”, which prompts a response that he’s worse and it’s stupid that I think he’s merely bad. Doesn’t matter that I agreed. It’s like father is looking for an excuse to be angry at me. – Rayv Oct 28 '17 at 17:49
  • "Yeah he's pretty bad" is not the same "I know, right? It's unbelievable!" or "And that wasn't even the first time!" or "Have you ever seen the like of him? In the Sixties, was there anyone even close?" -- you can agree more enthusiastically (instead of demurring slightly with a "pretty bad"), you can respond specifically to part of the speech to show you were listening, you can ask a question that might slightly change the subject while still letting him be the expert. A generic response that could apply to anything he said says "I wasn't really listening and anyway I don't care." – Kate Gregory Oct 28 '17 at 17:53
  • I’m aware of that, but, well, I honestly don’t care. I tried for months to at least pretend I’m not tired of the same topics (it’s not only politics), but there’s only so many variable responses to invent when you don’t know the subject very well and aren’t interested in it. – Rayv Oct 28 '17 at 17:59
  • Also, your advice on disagreeing is good, but it’s been thrown right back at me before: “If you like X, then how are you different from Y? Why are you arguing if you know Y is bad? I knew it, you just doing it to disagree with me.” – Rayv Oct 28 '17 at 18:12
  • It takes patience when you don't have trust. But you can say "I am not a drug dealer even though I have a tattoo, I agree that dealing drugs is bad." And then you can change the subject if you have to. Also, you can answer his actual questions. I am arguing because we both agree Y is bad, but that doesn't mean I can't like X. X doesn't always mean Y. You can also say "I am not just disagreeing because it's you, I respect your opinion on many things" which is probably something he wants to hear. – Kate Gregory Oct 28 '17 at 18:22
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I'd say that the transition from you being raised towards living with your parents as an adult isn't playing out well.

I think you are getting on one another's nerve because you are on the threshold living your own life, and 'just yesterday' you were guided by your parents.

You are still finding your feet and trying to find out what you want from life and having a long military service sitting right there in the way.

So, the actual topic is not the problem. All it is, is the fuse.

Have a plan!

I think you need to investigate, ask around, think (hard!) about what you want. Not just avoid what you dislike. Have a plan! One that fits you.

Then sit down with your father, and talk. Ask what IS bothering him. Be adult about it.

And, find some way to live on your own. May be some time away, may require a lot of 'ifs' to fill in, but it will give you a direction to point your feet today.

A very wise man once said that life is what happens while you made other plans. No reason not to have one anyway. And adapt it along the way.

Good luck!

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