3 Women On Why They Rehearse Arguments In Preparation

Photographed by Lula Hyers
A few weeks ago, 26-year-old media officer Cassie* planned an argument with her boyfriend.
"He hadn’t done any cleaning in weeks and I was trying to ignore it for the sake of keeping the peace but it was getting to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore," she tells Refinery29.
So Cassie laid out the steps. She would wait near the front door for him to come home. She would tell him they needed to talk because she was unhappy, and then she’d let him know he hadn’t been pulling his weight.
"But then he retaliates, telling me he hasn’t been doing anything around the house because he's the one who’s constantly working," she explains. That’s when Cassie starts pulling out "receipts", as she calls it.
"I’m going through the hard data, telling him who works the most and when, who does more around the house and who contributes more money to our lives." 
This argument didn't actually happen. It all took place inside Cassie’s head. It was completely imaginary: a rehearsal for a real-life conversation.
"And when we did eventually chat about cleaning, he just said sorry and committed to putting an hour a day into cleaning up. It was over quickly," Cassie explains. "It was almost unsatisfying that it was over, even though I obviously really didn’t want a confrontation, just because I’d built it up so much." 
Over on TikTok it becomes clear that this practice of playing out a fight or difficult conversation before it happens isn’t unusual at all.
A current trend on the social media site sees young women and girls lip-syncing to "Rap God" by Eminem (the part that’s almost inhumanly fast) with captions like "me rehearsing my notes for arguments with my boyfriend" or "me practising arguments with my boyfriend". For me at least, many of the videos which dominate my For You Page jest about planning and rehearsing arguments ahead of the real thing. 
Like Cassie, 27-year-old waitress Ellie* has regular arguments in her imagination, mostly with her boyfriend but also with her dad, her boss and some of her friends.
"I don’t think I’ve ever, in my life, told someone I wasn’t happy with how they acted or about something they said that upset me without having the fight with myself first. I don’t like confrontation at all and I think it’s just easier to yell at myself first. Not out loud though," she tells me.
"It makes me feel like a psycho," she laughs. "Like, why do I lie in bed for entire hours thinking about how I’m going to argue with someone when there might not even be an argument?"
Occasionally Ellie will imagine an argument and when a real one subsequently comes to fruition, it doesn't unfold the way she’d envisioned it.
"It really messes you up when they don’t follow the script! I prepare for potential confrontations so much. I think about four different versions of what they might say and what my comeback will be. I even get upset over the stuff they might say and that’s obviously not fair. I overprepare so much that when someone hits me with something I’m not expecting, it f*cks me up." 
@fleeekxyyyy Me planning an argument in my head be like this @official_abdxl #fyp #relatable #couples #relatablecouple #argument ♬ Originalton - nadegemferi
Gigi Engle, a certified sex educator who specialises in gender, sexuality and relationship diversity, says that we might have imaginary arguments because we feel a need to prepare if we’re expecting confrontation or a disagreement. 
"You can't write scripts for your partner, though," she adds. "You can’t predict what they might say in an argument but we convince ourselves that we can."
"That's why we have those back-and-forth scripts, kind of like a way for us to process and play out any scenario so that we're prepared for it."
This practice is a little like personal crisis management. You're assessing the worst-case scenario in case of an emergency. In reality, our partners are as human as we are and they will act (and react) in ways that might be surprising. That’s not a bad thing but a real and inevitable aspect of a relationship with another human being, which we shouldn’t try to control. 
Engle suspects that both women and men have fake arguments but notes that "women are socialised to be more empathetically minded". This means we naturally care about other people's feelings and often put our feelings before other people. 
"We're the ones who are supposed to be the fixers in heterosexual relationships," she adds. This might explain why our first port of call when expecting confrontation or knowing we need to deliver criticism is to practise.
Women are so used to fixing emotional problems, and there’s so much pressure embedded in that responsibility, that we’re simply making sure it goes right.
Because of this imbalance of perceived emotional intelligence and experience, women are also more likely than men to speak to their friends before their partners about relationship woes, crafting a response collaboratively rather than going into a fight all guns blazing.

Planning our future arguments bae 😫

♬ original sound - azianagranday
But some arguments never make it into real life, suggesting imaginary arguments aren't always about practising or being the fixer in the relationship at all. 
Twenty-four-year-old bartender Hannah tells Refinery29 that she has arguments with her fiancé inside her head so that she "never has to have them for real".
"The beginning of our relationship wasn’t easy. He cheated. I cheated in retaliation. Since then, we’ve moved on and got to a really good place but there are times, usually when I’m on my period, that I get angry about it out of nowhere," she explains. 
Hannah says she doesn’t think she has "any right" to bring these feelings up, years down the line. "We’ve apologised and agreed to move on so I know it’s really bad but I yell at him inside my head. [When the fake argument is happening], I will tell him how it made me feel all over again and call him names, and then he grovels."
But Hannah never ever brings up these feelings with her partner in real life. 
Engle adds: "Some women create scripts and arguments in their head in order to avoid conflicts because we are taught that our feelings are our fault."
Often we brush off our feelings as 'silly' or 'overdramatic' and once that point has been reached, it’s hard to speak up. In these cases, it’s easy to understand why women skip confrontation and argue with themselves, alone.
Ultimately, having imaginary arguments can be a power grab and an act of self-sabotage because you're giving oxygen to negative feelings which may be unnecessary rather than having a constructive conversation with the person involved.
Imagining arguments, especially the ones where you’re triumphant, could also be an attempt at trying to claim and keep power in a relationship. But good relationships are not built on power. They’re built on so much more: teamwork, communication, trust, love.
If you’re trapped in a loop of fake arguing, question what’s happening in the relationship that’s got you preparing for battle and try talking it through with the other person. As Engle points out: "We’re taught that we’re not supposed to be needy but you're not needy for having needs." And if you don't articulate those needs, the other person will never know what they are.
*Name has been changed to protect identity

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