What a Pedicure Taught Me About Arguing in Relationships

Posted by in communication skills in dating | 2 comments

arguing in relationshipsI am recovering from major surgery. Thanks to modern medicine, I was home the same day, taking walks around the block the very next day. I am grateful to be feeling stronger daily. But I’m a highly energetic person, and it’s not easy for me to relax and just take it easy. I did take the week off from work and I’ve been allowing my wonderful family and friends to take care of me. Tuesday, I decided to ramp up the self-care and pamper myself with a pedicure. Normally, I’m a pretty low-maintenance woman, and pedicures are a rare treat for me. I was psyched to sit in a relaxing chair for a half-hour, having my feet soaked, massaged and toenails polished. Mmmmm, luxurious, right? Not so much.

The Pedicure from Hell

The woman who did my pedicure began offering me items off the service menu. “Do you want a spa pedicure?” “No thank you. Just a standard regular pedicure please.” “Do you want a manicure?” “No thank you. Just a pedicure please.” Jeez. Were these people always this pushy? I guess I really don’t go for pedis very often.

Then, she pointed to my calloused heels. She said, “Callouses” and I answered, “Yes, that’s what those are. I have rough skin.” Come on, it’s the summer and I’ve been in flip flops and sandals. Who doesn’t have callouses in the summer?

The pedi was complete, and I sat down at the drying table to dry my toes and get my five-minute massage. And then I got the bill.

My $26 pedicure was $36.50. What? I said there must be a mistake. She said, “You asked for the callous treatment. That costs $10.50.” That was the first I had heard of an extra fee for a service I never asked for.

She took my $40 and gave me back $3.50. I told her to please return the money for the extra service. I had no idea I was being given any special treatment, and had I known, I would have turned it down. She refused to return my money. She said she had already given me this service, and it was a done deal.

I took some deep breaths and tried to relax into my massage. I wanted to process what had happened before reacting and regretting the words that might spill out of my mouth.

Those five relaxing minutes were all I needed to figure out my next steps. I would talk to the manager and work this out in a calm manner.

I asked another employee where I could find the manager. She said, “We’re all managers.” What? I had to think of a plan C.

“You want your $10.50 back, right? Well, she already provided the service, so she can’t give you back your money. It would have to come out of her pocket.” I thought, “Yes, and that’s how it should be.” But I kept quiet and listened.

The woman getting her nails done in front of me spoke up to her manicurist on my behalf. “You need to give her the money back. She wasn’t told how much that service would cost, so the customer is right. Actually, the customer is always right.” Thank you, my new stranger-friend-advocate!

I stayed calm, cool, and collected. I was rational, but the employees at the nail salon were not.

My pedicure lady then marched over to me in a huff. “You want your money back? Here!!” She practically threw the $10.50 at me. Ouch. I walked out of the salon shaking. I gathered my thoughts and took a deep breath.

The nail salon lost two customers that day over $10.50. The pedicurist lost a tip. Their self-righteous act cost them far more than they imagined. Was it worth it? I think not.

Arguing in Relationships

I believe that relationships thrive or fail based primarily on how you argue. I am a big fan of the work of Dr. John Gottman, an expert on couples and relationships. In his studies, he found that he could predict divorce within a short amount of time, based on how a couple argues. The four worst ways to argue are 1. stonewalling 2. defensiveness 3. contempt and 4. criticism.

When you disagree with your partner, it’s important to put your needs aside for a moment and listen to the other person. Really listen. Don’t jump to prove you’re right. Don’t defend yourself without first respecting the other person’s opinion. Don’t walk away from a person who’s arguing with you. Stop. Listen. Process.

In the case of the pedicure from hell, I listened first. Then I spoke my piece. She was uncompromising and bent on making me wrong. ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ is not a place of compromise or conversation. This got me upset. But instead of reacting, I breathed and waited.

I realized that my pedicurist was limited. I couldn’t rationalize with her, so I tried to find someone who would listen. Ultimately, I got my money back, but that wasn’t the main point. I wanted to be treated fairly, and to have honest and fair communication about the about extra charges.

She had ended the argument with anger, practically throwing the money in my face, rolling her eyes at my friend, and heavily sighing at me.

This was a customer/employee relationship, but if it were a romantic partnership, I would have done the same thing. Breathe. Listen. Try to rationalize. Wait for a better time to talk.

The truth is, I wouldn’t partner with someone who disrespected me and treated me poorly. Luckily, I can just choose another nail salon. I wouldn’t recommend switching partners every time there’s an argument. Choose your partner wisely, based in part on how you argue together.

What’s your style of arguing? What have been the biggest issues in the way you and your past partners argued?



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  1. What an awful way to take advantage of someone…and stupid, too, since they lost business over it. Good analogies with ways to handle differences in our own personal relationships!

  2. Sheryl,

    Thank you for your support and kind words. My friend told me that the grocery store Stu Leonards’ has a great philosophy. He said that every customer has a $5,000 price sticker on their foreheads. If someone returns a turkey because it’s too dry, he takes it back, no questions asked. You don’t make a big deal over a $25 turkey and sacrifice the thousands of dollars you could earn from that loyal customer.

    Small-minded people make big problems out of small issues. I like to take a meta view of life, and ask, “What’s the bigger picture here?” Helps keep things in perspective, right?

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