How To Reason With Unreasonable People

How do you reason with unreasonable people? You don’t. I am sorry to say, but you do not reason with unreasonable people because they are, in fact, unreasonable.

However, there are some communication tactics that can abate your nerves and make tough conversations more productive.

Consider these the next time you are confronted by an unreasonable.

Never tell unreasonables they are wrong

The number one mistake anyone can ever make during a conversation with unreasonables is to tell them that they are wrong.

Even if they are wrong and you are an expert arguer, you will get your you-know-what handed to you by insulting the intellect of an unreasonable.

They are more stubborn and relentless than you, and they are irrational, so you will not get very far in the conversation.

There are other ways to communicate error; but by blatantly saying, “you are wrong,” you are actually begging the unreasonable to permanently dishevel your sanity.

Do not apologize for their mistakes

Oftentimes, unreasonables have an uncanny ability to twist the conversation around and make the situation seem like your fault.

If you did something wrong, definitely admit it and offer sincere apologies.

However, if you find yourself being blamed for things the unreasonable actually did, do not allow the unreasonable to take advantage of you.

Accept responsibility for your share of the situation, but no more. (I am sorry, dear reasonable, but if there are two people in a relationship, then there are two responsible parties. Being the reasonable person that you are, you will have to accept your portion.)

Show a little humility in order to break down the hostility, but do not allow the unreasonable to make you feel like everything is your fault. If you do, you will only enable their assertion of dominance over you.

Do not cry or show anger

Maintaining emotional composure is vital for a successful outcome.

Unreasonables will use your emotions against you.

They will not feel guilty if you start to cry. They will not become frightened if you yell in angst. Tears and anger only bubble their caldron.

Remaining emotionally neutral (at least outwardly) is a very difficult skill to perform, but it can be learned (unfortunately through many tough conversations with unreasonables).

Practice this during every conversation with an unreasonable and you will improve.

Please, do not forget to expel that suppressed emotion later by going for a run, beating up a punching bag, or meditating. If you do not discharge your tension, your face will likely end up at the bottom of an ice cream container, and you will hate yourself.

Ask lots of questions

Unreasonables love to hear themselves talk. Filling up the air with fallacious chatter means less space for reason and responsibility to leak in.

You, my dear reasonable, can wield such chatter to make the conversation more productive.

The person who asks the questions controls the conversation. This statement is so true and so often overlooked.

When conversing with an unreasonable, do not try to get your own words in unless you plan on saying everything the unreasonable wants to hear (good luck with that one). Instead, guide the conversation by asking questions.

Aim to get to the root of the issue. Ask specific questions about their begrudgery, and then let them speak. Listen intently (and look like you are listening intently), then use their exact words to formulate simple, detailed questions that get you closer to the fundamental issue.

Aim for a stalemate

You are not going to win the conversation.

Even if the conversation gets resolved and you feel that significant progress was made, you are dealing with an unreasonable. That means the conversation you feel so good about can easily be forgotten or thrown back in your face at a later time.

Conversations are not about winning (not to you anyways).

Conversations with unreasonables are opportunities to better understand their quandaries and to help them better understand their quandaries, as well. The goal is to end on a draw so that neither party feels defeated, but both have better insight into the issue.

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Do you have any advice on communicating effectively with unreasonable people? Do tell!

Unreasonable people are not bad people or stupid people or people we should not hang out with; rather, they are people with skewed perceptions of reality rooted in personal insecurity.

We all can be unreasonable from time to time, but when unreasonableness is a habit, it becomes a huge burden on relationships.

Can you think of a time when you were unreasonable? What snapped you back to reality? Perhaps you can use your personal experiences as the basis for communicating with unreasonable people you encounter in your life.

If you feel that progress between you and the unreasonable is underway, do not give up, especially if the unreasonable is someone you choose to love.

If zilch is happening and you become increasingly unhappy in the relationship, evaluate whether the relationship is worth holding onto and working on.

It’s tough, but no one can make the decision for you. But you are strong and can handle this.

(photo credit: Max the Brown Tabby and Burt the Grey Kitten: Cat Argument 3 via photopin license)

The Be Well Place End Of Post

40 comments

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Wendy. 14 years – that’s a long time! You are obviously committed, though, and probably have a few tricks up your sleeve. Is there anything you recommend for maintaining peace of mind? It seems the best strategy is focusing on ourselves and keeping our minds right when dealing with unreasonables. Any suggestions?

      • Wendy says:

        thats not true. if you are finding that your husband truly has no regard for your feelings then maybe he is more than unreasonable. possibly a sociopath? look it up. i know one and they truly have no empathy for anyone or remorse. unreasonables do actually care. they just cant show it during an episode of anger and abuse because they are so very insecure

        • Rachael says:

          It’s true that some people are actually incapable of empathy, like extreme narcissists. This is very hard for people who can empathize to understand. I struggle with the frustration often. The inspiration for this article was my encounter with a bunch of unreasonables in various areas of my life. Husbands usually get pinned for this sort of thing, but unreasonableness can show up at work, in friendships, and other family relationships, unfortunately. You bring up a great point about insecurity. Unreasonables are usually so unreasonable because they try to mask their deep rooted self-hate.

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Lisa, sorry I overlooked your comment. We are going to get to the bottom of this and figure out what’s really going on with these unreasonables. It’s not okay for you to tolerate relationships with people that don’t care about your feelings. Please check back in a few weeks for more discussion on this topic. I hope it helps…Please have a relaxing holiday season!

  1. Wendy says:

    I fell in love with a wonderful man who turned my world upside down and I was so happy. He was getting divorced and we were just friends for the first year that I knew him. I couldnt stand being away from him for any amount of time. It was in our second year in our relationship that it became something more and i soon moved in. I knew that his ex was abusive and a liar and just a bad person. She is the sociopath i mentioned in other comment. I also knew he had a bad childhood with an abusive controlling mother. well after a blissful two years things changed. I learned very fast all about how unreasonables work. its all about insecurity and the fear of being rejected and not worthy. the coldness and uncaring that you see is part of the defense mechanism they have and part of controlling the other person. if you love them enough u learn fast to not argue, they are always right, dont say they are wrong and never try to explain. show little emotion, dont get upset and let them be right..

    • Rachael says:

      Hi, Wendy. I’m so sorry that your relationship went awry. Upbringing is a significant factor in determining how we handle situations. Your experience is proof of that. Again, your insight about people’s insecurity, need for control, need to be right, etc., is so spot on. To someone who can see what’s really going on, it’s very sad to witness a loved one demonstrate so much fear and self-hatred. I hope you are able to maintain your own self-worth and not allow that person’s self-hate to reflect onto you. I hope you can always remember that his actions and words are about him and his issues, not about you. Please keep in touch. I do hope things look up for you!

      • Lorena says:

        Hello Wendy and Rachel. I was married for 11 months, he left twice. I didn’t have much experience with what to do so I just got mad, argued, opposed. But my main frustration was to never be able to confront. I now have a roomate that does the same, she comes from an abusive marriage and if I confront her she abuses me.
        It is so hard and I am glad he left me because he met someone else online. I felt like I had to walk on eggshells and could never ask him to do something a different way. I tried using very soft words, very cheerful tone, nothing did it. It’s the most frustrating situation and I am very serious about my faith so I got married to stay. But I was determined that I would not just put up with whatever and wait for him to grow up so I could have a decent conversation with him.
        I have the same kind of problems with my roomate. I am trying to be better at placing boundaries and confronting without getting attached to the reaction but it all goes one ear and out the other.
        I would love comments and suggestions! Tks

        • Rachael says:

          Hi, Lorena. Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m sorry that you have to go through it again. It’s so frustrating to have that experience with people you care about. I’m developing some resources to help people like you not lose their mind when confronting an unreasonable. It’s so hard and so emotionally exhausting.

          The best thing you can possibly do for yourself right now (and at any moment) is focus on you. You’re not going to change anyone, especially an unreasonable. It’s incredibly disappointing, but true. That being said, you must prioritize yourself – your health, stress levels, and overall well-being – and do whatever is necessary for you to feel good about yourself and the life you are living. I don’t know what that specifically means for you. You need to spend some time reflecting on what you want, what makes you happy, and what you need to do to get there.

          The other thing you can do is work on trying to understand these people in your life. We develop better understanding by asking questions. (There’s an article coming out about this soon.) If you feel the urge to work on your confrontation skills, I have some suggestions that might help:

          Please check back in soon. My mission is truly to help where I can, and your story helps a great deal with that. Keep your chin up!!

    • Denise Edwards says:

      Yes I agree. But, why should they have to be right all the time. Who are they? May be we are right, too. They are not supreme beings over us that they always have to be right and win at the expense of our feelings. Healthy relationships should be balanced where the control is shared. One person leads for a while and then the other person steps in, it is like a dance. It is involuntary and not discussed both parties balance each other out. If it is so top heavy and they are always right I would not want to have a relationship with that person.

    • Tony says:

      What you described is exactly what I deal with my wife. I know exactly why she is acting out like that but not sure how to deal with her beside not saying anything and let her verbally abuse me. I have learned over 10 years the only way to keep myself calm is pray for God to help her. I wish there is a way to talk to her or a way to fix this. Sometime is almost pushes me the cliff.

  2. Charlie says:

    My partner and I are currently living in a house share with an unreasonable. It was very frustrating yesterday when it came to a head. We seem to get it in the neck for the tiniest things that we have actually been very respectful of for our whole time living together. The part where you said about them turning things onto you is so true and SO frustrating! Especially when they are the ones that are doing it too. Also, they don’t give up. He kept coming back to us with things that were nothing to do with us getting himself even more worked up. It is such a horrible experience. What I really wanted to do was to tell him to get a grip and actually look at it rationally, but you know how that would have ended… My partner and I both just let him ge on with it and get it out of his system but it sure as hell makes you feel that you’re not welcome in the house. There’s nothing of ours there, aside from our bedroom, and it is not nice. He is completely unreasonable and irrational. I can’t wait until Christmas to get away. Thanks for posting and allowing my rant!

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Charlie! Sheesh, sounds miserable. Unfortunately, you’re right – you can’t tell your roommate to “get a grip.” That certainly won’t initiate a rational conversation. It sounds like you need to decide whether or not it’s worth it to have a conversation. If he’s a close friend and someone you want to stick around, then it’s probably worth a shot. (And then we can talk communication strategy.) If not, then you’ll need to develop lots of mental discipline so that you don’t blow your top. Meanwhile, don’t forget you change where you live. If you’re really that unhappy, why not look for another place to stay? The logistics are always messy, but if it means peace of mind, then it’s so worth the hassle. Keep in touch! I hope the holidays are relaxing :)

  3. Charlie says:

    Hi! We are certainly looking for somewhere to live in the new year. We are just waiting it out for the next few months and then that is it. I have developed something mental, but I don’t think it is discipline! Hope you have a good holiday also :)

    • Rachael says:

      Well, hey, check back to this page in a couple weeks. Since this is a hot topic, I’m developing some resources to help provide mental clarity so that we can all maintain our sanity. I’d love to get your feedback and see if it’s helpful. Keep in touch!

  4. Cathy says:

    My partner is intolerably unreasonable. Everything is about him. Everything is my fault. Everything is my job. Being a mother means I am solely responsible for the child and anything he does is as a favour to me! Housework is a favour and something that he deserves a gold medal for, whereas housework is naturally something the I AM responsible for. I try to reason with him to explain our dual equal responsibilities and I am told that I am mentally unstable. He puts his hands over his ears when I try to have an adult conversation with him. Like you Wendy, my partner started off in our relationship a totally different man, so attentive and loving. Now 3 years in there is no affection and no regard for my feelings whatsoever. x

    • Rachael says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Cathy, and I’m sorry to hear about your situation. There’s something strange that happens to some people when they get married. It’s not just men – there are plenty of women who do it, too. It’s this weird thing where people have anxiety that they don’t have enough or aren’t doing enough with their lives. They aren’t feeling satisfied. Really they’re struggling with a deep, personal feeling of unworthiness and desire for control. But instead of delving into their own selves, they point their finger at the people nearest them, usually spouses.

      There’s no sense in trying to change these people – it’s impossible. They can only change themselves, but it’s likely that they’ll never realize what they are actually doing and how they are hurting people that love them.

      Like I mentioned to Charlie, please check back here in a few weeks. Everyone in this discussion has clearly demonstrated the need for some mental clarity in order to survive their relationships. I’ll be addressing issues like narcissism and, as Wendy mentioned, sociopathic behavior. The goal is to support you and others like you manage your role in your relationship.

      I hope the holidays are relaxing! Please keep in touch!

  5. CATHY says:

    Forgot to mention that we both work full time and I do 40hours per week and have all the responsibility at home to go with it.

  6. EDWARD says:

    I don’t normally write online – or indeed write anything at all :), but the description above is so scarily similar to my wife I felt I had to say something!

    There really is no possibility of ever ‘winning’ an argument against such a person and the day that I received a ‘sorry’ message from her I still regard as possibly the greatest ever achievement in my life.

    I realised soon after I was in a relationship with her that I had to make a significant change to myself and not argue with her or rise to any ‘bait’ and allow her to ‘win’.

    The first year of our relationship was very difficult and punctuated with many deep arguments but as soon as I realised that it was not getting me anywhere (and that I made the decision that I love her despite of her issue and wanted to be with her) our relationship improved.

    I don’t view her this way at all, but I found it really helpful to see her as a child whilst she was arguing with me insisting she was right about everything and refusing to give even one inch of ground in any argument – in this way I could avoid getting angry and simply explain to her again in a rational way why I felt she was wrong (without ever saying this – that is very true!).

    Sometimes I will have to message or converse with her for quite some time, but by maintaining my tone, being rational and not getting angry (and also sometimes dropping in some ‘disappointment in her actions’ (this does seem to work sometimes when she is being REALLY unreasonable) I do find that while I obviously cannot ‘win’ any argument, she seems to eventually understand that there is another viewpoint (well that’s what I like to think – actually she will normally go quiet) and after a short period of silence we can go about our lives again (it probably helps that I cannot stay angry for longer than a few hours!)

    In my experience, these unreasonable people simply cannot bear to admit they are wrong and thus even a small ‘argument’ can become a giant issue unless you refuse to rise to it at all.

    It is now only on the rare days when I am having a really bad day or have had something bad happen to me that we now have a proper argument (when I will snap at one of her unreasonable statements or messages without thinking).

    Some of my friends say that I am not being a proper man in the relationship and should put my foot down etc. – but I know that if I do this our relationship won’t work, and in my heart I feel that in always trying to be rational and fair and happy I am maintaining my position.

    Anyway, good luck in dealing with your ‘unreasonable’ person and it can work if you are prepared to give a lot of ground! Make sure they are worth it!

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hi Edward! Thank you for sharing your story. You mentioned that you normally don’t write online, well I’m clearly horrible at replying to comments :) I hope things are feeling lighter these days. It’s so hard when you love someone who can’t seem to evaluate their own actions and how their behavior contributes to the relationship. We’re all at different stages of emotional maturity, and some people take a long time to break old habits. After letting go of numerous unreasonables, I personally learned the value of acceptance and compassion. There’s no need to judge or look down upon anyone. The best thing to do is love people and grow a thick skin. Sounds cheesy, but it’s the best emotional survival mechanism I’ve come up with so far. Take good care of yourself!

      • Steve says:

        I’m so glad this thread is still open! My relationship has a history of codependence, I got sober (at her urging) 2 years ago when we adopted our son, she still drinks. I feel like I self analyze constantly, partly because I know she is emotionally abusive, and partly because my addictive nature is rooted in selfishness which I feel like I am always battling. I go to a therapist weekly, because I’m supposed to”fix” myself before she will agree to go to couples counseling. I’m a pretty patient person, I just don’t know how much more of our wreckage I want our son to experience. He is 2 now, and I know that he understands a lot more than he can relate or express. I just want him to be able to grow up and have a “normal” relationship (if such a thing exists), and not be emotionally scarred by our dysfunction. I’m not sure how long I can or should stay married to her, life is full of tough decisions.

        • Rachael Pasini says:

          Hey Steve! This thread is definitely still open. Congrats on two years of sobriety! That’s quite a challenge, and it sounds like your head and heart are aligned with what’s truly important to you. That whole “should I stay or should I go” battle is so incredibly hard. If it makes you feel better, I don’t think there is such a thing as a “normal” relationship :) But I know what you mean. There certainly is such a thing as a loving relationship full of mutual respect, acceptance and support. It takes both people to make that happen, though. One person can’t carry a relationship. But if you stay true to you and keep that head and heart aligned with what really matters most in your life, you’ll make the right decision. Please keep in touch.

  7. JF says:

    I WAS married to an “unreasonable” … in my case, the man was a sociopath as you mentioned here. When I say “sociopath”, people don’t get it. They think that equals serial killer or something .. I am speaking of an unreasonable person to the point of NOT CARING one bit about your feelings … not being able to understand ANYTHING you are going through … and now my poor son has to deal with this crazy person. All of the advice on here is TRUE and PERFECT advice! one cannot reason or explain or get them to feel empathy – EVER! I don’t know why I still try to talk sense into him after 10 years of being divorced!! It will never work – you will NEVER win the conversation or get them to see your side … it is a pointless effort. My son is only 10 yrs old and he told me to not give this person more than 3 seconds of my time/anger! Pretty smart kid. I try, but there are times when this type of disregard for human feelings just burns me!!! Anyway, knowing that other people know what I am talking about helps. All the “reasonables” have to stick together. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with this type of person. Stay strong .. and know in your heart that you are a good person and you are dealing with a unique and cowardly individual with no self esteem. (funny how they trick us into thinking they are the most confident …) they are jerks .. and YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. DON’T LET THEM TAKE THAT AWAY FROM YOU <3

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hey JF! I know it’s been quite a long time, but I just want to say that I hope things are looking up for you. Since there’s nothing you can do to change anyone, I hope you’re continuing to work on yourself and being the best version of you. That’s all we can ever do anyways. Thanks for that last line, “You are beautiful. Don’t let them take that away from you.” Excellent advice for anyone no matter the situation :)

    • Frida says:

      I really needed to read something like this. Thank you!
      I am preparing a conversation with my unreasonable ex tomorrow as we are coparenting our 1 month old and I really need all the tips I can get.
      This comment was much needed!
      AGAIN, THANK YOU!

      • Rachael Pasini says:

        Hi Frida, I hope thing are going well for you. I know it’s hard, but it sounds like you’re taking measures to improve your situation. All we can do is try… Please remember to love yourself and accept that people don’t always behave and respond the way we want them to. Other people’s words and actions are a reflection of them, not you. Be well!

  8. Melissa says:

    I found this article very helpful. Labeling the other person as an “Unreasonable” is a quick way to identify a potential unwanted argument. The advice about “the person who asks the questions controls the conversation” is empowering. I will apply this tactic moving forward. Thank you for the advice.

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hi Melissa, sorry I’m just getting to your comment now. Glad you found the article helpful, and I hope things are looking up for you! Always stay true to you, have compassion for others and accept that we are all responsible for our own feelings. You got this! :)

  9. Janessa says:

    Hey Rachael,

    So me and 3 of my friends are moving into a house together next year and we are college students. I got romantically involved with one of them (lets call him Dan) and one of my other friends (lets call him Alex) is really against it. Alex told me that he feels more excluded now that I am romantically involved with Dan. However, me and Dan try our hardest to include Alex in everything that we do but Alex is just not having it and is excluding himself. He says that he would not live with us because he feels uncomfortable. How would you respond in a situation like this? Thank you so much for your help.

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hi Janessa! I just replied to your email. So that everyone can benefit, the overall gist is this: We can go out of our way all day long to make people feel comfortable and loved, but everyone is responsible for their own feelings. As long as we are compassionate and try our best to be good friends, we’re doing everything we can. We cannot take responsibility for other people’s feelings, and no one can take responsibility for ours. It’s tough when our happiness makes others feel sad, but we cannot change the way they feel – only they can do that. The best we can do is hope everybody comes around in their own time. Some of them won’t, and that’s okay, too. It’s just another opportunity to practice acceptance, compassion and letting go. Keep me posted, Jane!

  10. Fran says:

    Rachel, you don’t know how much your piece on unreasonables and everyone’s comments has helped me. I have a 23 year old son who was seen at 11 years old for mental health issues. It was said that it was primarily depression and anxiety, but I remember the psychiatrist saying that he had a sense of self loathing. He was admitted to a psych unit, for a week, was on medication for a year, had some additional psychotherapy sessions, and really seemed to turn himself
    around. We don’t ever discuss
    those events of 12 years ago. Fast forward 12 years, and I see characteristics that break my heart. Manipulative, little remorse, he is very smart and knows it. I could go on and on. Perhaps to make it worse, he is a second year law student at a prestigious law school. My question, is, as his mother is there anything I can say or do? He saw a professional for anxiety about a year ago. He doesn’t like to talk about it so we don’t bring it up. Thank you so much for your understanding.

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hi Fran, you clearly have your share of challenges. I hope things are looking up since your last comment! I honestly can’t provide specific advice – you know your situation and son better than me or any professional. It may sound lame, but I truly believe that you know what is best for your situation. Deep down, you know what you need to do and say (or not do and say) in order to preserve your relationship and help your son be the best version of himself. And I guarantee that the more you work on your own thoughts, feelings, and self-love, the more peaceful you will be.

  11. Lynn says:

    I am dealing with an unreasonable husband. I try not to let it eat away at me, but it does. He truly does not care about my feelings, immediately gets defensive with confrontation, and becomes horribly unreasonable. In our most recent battle it came to me that I should ask questions. I challenged him to make a list of all of my demands from the past year, to list what I have asked for, to write down anything that was unreasonable that I asked for. I am very low maintenance and my life is taking care of him and the house. I am doing the best I can with two small kids, but besides him, I don’t have much support. I am at a loss. I love him..the kids love him….but I cannot continue in a relationship with no emotional support and never being able to have a reasonable conversation about certain things.

    • Frida says:

      Lynn, you have to put the energy towards yourself and think about what your needs are first. Prioritize you. Not him, not the kids but you.
      I recently left my ex after 8 years, we were engaged to be married and recently had a child together. It was the most difficult thing to leave but I now realize that I did the best thing I could do for myself.
      He is verbally abusive, an emotional bully and plays the victim constantly. Unfortunately, we have to interact because of our son and this is going to be the main challenge for the rest of our lives. This is what brought me to this article.
      What I realize is that his behaviour has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with his insecurities.
      As long as you remain aware of that and work on your own self, that is what will keep you going.

      • Rachael Pasini says:

        Frida, you nailed it: “What I realize is that his behaviour has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with his insecurities. As long as you remain aware of that and work on your own self, that is what will keep you going.” What people say about us has nothing to do with us (and vice versa). When we learn to see unkindness not as a reflection of ourselves, but as evidence of deep-seeded hurt, we can practice compassion and keep our heads level. So glad that you discovered this and shared it – thank you!

    • Rachael Pasini says:

      Hi Lynn, please don’t beat yourself up – you’re doing the best you can right now. I completely understand and relate. You face a continuous uphill battle, and it takes its toll sometimes. Like I tell everyone, though, you and only you know what’s best for your situation. No one can give you a discrete answer or make your decisions for you. (And I know how frustrating that can be!) Please remember your strengths and that you are worthy of happiness – whatever that means for you. Focused, linear conversations can help in the short-term. Here’s an artcile that describes what I mean: http://bewellplace.com/reason-unreasonable-people-communication-tactic-1-linear-conversations/ Keep in touch and let us know how things are going…

  12. No says:

    I disagree that if there are two people in the relationship that there are two responsible parties.

    I worked with a guy with BPD once who tried to blame me for his workload, which he thought was too heavy but he chose his workload, he had the lightest workload on the team and I repeatedly asked him when he chose it if he was sure he was happy with it, and he repeatedly insisted, in front of multiple witnesses, that he was. I also made it clear that if there were any issues, to let me know so we could address them. Then he went MIA, stopped showing up, answering phone calls, and responding to emails until out of the blue I received a nasty email accusing me of giving him an “unfair” workload.

    Can’t help crazy but I would have fired him if I could have.

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