How do I deal with a parent who likes to fight and always has to be right?

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Q: My mother likes to fight and she always has to be "right." How can I deal with the argumentative behavior?

A: The best response to cantankerousness is no response at all. Most people who like to argue do so because it tends to evoke a strong emotional reaction from others—they do it to get a rise out of you.

Don't take the bait. If you respond to a challenge minimally, with vague, brief replies and a neutral emotional tone, your mother will probably drop the subject pretty quickly. Show focused interest in response to non-controversial subjects or those on which you really do agree, and you'll have more positive interactions. Bottom line: To increase desirable behavior, reward it.

Dr. Robert Bornstein, PhD

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Robert F. Bornstein, PhD is Professor of psychology at Adelphi University, and has published more than 150 articles and book chapters in psychology. He co-authored (with Mary A. Languirand, PhD) "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care."

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32 Comments

Easier said then done.... my family member likes to set you up and then complain about everything for the last 50 years...she never takes the blame for anything... criticizes and then spreads stories to her friends to make us look bad...everyone knows her behavior but are afraid to say anything, because she is loud and vugar.
Some people are cantankerous by personality. I'd like to say that dementia can also play a role. I've heard one person in very early stage explain that she has lost confidence in so many things. When there is something she is confident that she knows she clings to it and defends her position, way beyond the value of the subject. She is dismayed at being wrong or uncertain so much that she has become very argumentative when she thinks she is right.

If this need to be right is a new behavior and the loved one has some dementia, this could be a factor. Knowing that should make it easier to simply let them be right.
Just agree with them, and they will stop arguing, since there aint nothing to debate on. Then consider going to your room or turning up the radio and say " I CANT HEAR YOU".