1. Begin with the assumption that you are acting in good faith and your opponent is not. You are trying to get to the bottom of something important, and they are trying to score cheap points. You are perfectly willing to sacrifice your needs, your schedule, your priorities once again for the sake of harmony and they are determined to take all they can from you before sucking you dry.
How dare they do that to you, that thing they’re doing or thinking of doing. After all you’ve done for them. Think about everything you’ve ever done for them, in extensive detail. Congratulate yourself for each and every one of them.
2. Remember everything that they have ever done to you. Catalogue it, make it into a list, laminate the list, hang the list up in the torched and selfless halls of your heart. Be prepared to dredge any and all of those things–those terrible, terrible things–into the conversation at a moment’s notice. You remember the things perfectly, all of them.
3. Remind yourself how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are, wherever that is. Without anybody’s help. You cracked your nails and split your knuckles clawing for everything you have, and they’ve had all they ever wanted fall into their waiting and useless lap. And does this make them appreciate your hard work? It does not.
(Ask yourself a great deal of rhetorical questions. This way you can have a supportive, encouraging conversation without having to talk to anyone who isn’t you.)
Remember the Nevers. They never supported you, not really, not even when they said they did or pretended to or made it look like they did. Nobody has ever truly supported you in the way you really needed, so everything and everyone is fair game.
4. This is a matter of integrity. Your integrity. Your integrity–your beautiful, untarnished, your precious integrity–is being beset by all manners of traps, stratagems and snares from every side. The stakes aren’t the point. Of course the stakes aren’t the point. You don’t care about the stakes! It’s laughable to suggest that the stakes are what matter to you. You would gladly concede the stakes, if they’re going to care so much about the damn stakes. But it’s the principle of the thing. The very, very important principle that you’re fighting for.
5. Remember that criticism is the same thing as jealousy, and anything rooted in jealousy cannot possibly be true and is subject to immediate and permanent dismissal.
6. When at last your opponent becomes visibly upset, you have two options, both excellent:
“I feel really unsafe around you right now.” You may choose to back away here, in order to highlight how terrifying and inappropriately over-the-top their reaction is. “I really can’t talk to you about this right now, if you’re going to make me feel unsafe like this.” The natural exasperation that results from this will of course only prove your point. Or:
“When you get irrational and hysterical like this, it’s really difficult for me to have an adult conversation with you.” Say this slowly, but not so slowly you could be accused of taking advantage of your position. “I’m not trying to upset you. I’m really sorry that this is clearly so hard for you. I don’t want you to be upset, but I can’t help it if that’s your response.” You cannot help a tiny smile at that last part, or the dark and liquid glee that sinks through your entire body, down to your fingers and your toes.
7. Exaggerate your disbelief. “Really,” you say. “Really.”
8. Send an unpleasant email. To anyone. About anything.
9. Tell a lie about the fight to an uninvolved third party. Make it sound plausible, but so verifiably untrue that it would take the merest of efforts on their part to find out that you were lying. After telling the lie, whenever you run into them again, read into their every gesture and response to determine whether or not they have found you out. Wait for them to pull away from you. Come to expect and even hope for it. Feel heartsick when they do. Casually, even cheerfully, repeat the lie for no reason a month later. Look them in the eye as you tell it. Dare them to challenge what you’ve said.
10. When they become panicked enough at the prospect of parting ways over something so small, now is your chance to take advantage of their desperate honesty. Tell them “I don’t understand,” after they struggle to give you a candid and sensitive description of their perspective. The more willing they become to assume fault, the more disinterestedly blameless you must appear. Ask for another explanation. Explain yourself again. Explain to them why their explanation doesn’t make any sense. “I don’t understand,” you’ll say again, as if they’d never tried to explain in the first place.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.