Does your argument pass the equivalence test?


  • Author Michel Joly
  • Published July 20, 2019
  • Word count 1,108


There are people around us who love to argue, and sometimes just for the sake of arguing.

It is therefore necessary, I think, to lay some ground rules when it comes to arguing.

Especially if the argument occurs between 2 friends, a couple, a parent and a child,...

And if the 2 parties involved are not interested in laying ground rules, then it is to your advantage to be aware of certain types of arguments.

This article will look at one such type of argument.

What is the equivalence test?

There are certain types of arguments that, I think, are not good, logical and fair arguments.

I have come up with a phrase to address this issue: the equivalence test.

It is based on the idea that:

  • we should have the same expectations of ourselves as we have of others, and

  • we should apply the same rules to ourselves that we do to others.

The equivalence test is aimed at dealing with in the type of argument that reflects one thing: double standards.

And we are all guilty of double standards, unfortunately.

For example:

  • your wife is not happy with you (for whatever reason), and makes you sleep on the sofa.

This fails the equivalence test because you could then argue that, should you be unhappy with her in the future, then you would be well within your right to likewise make her sleep on the sofa.

  • your husband says that he wants to have his own bank account with his salary going into it so he can have his own money to spend. But refuses to let you do the same.

This fails the equivalence test because he is wanting something that he is not happy to let you have.

  • your partner thinks nothing of correcting you in public which you find embarrassing.

This fails the equivalence test because you could then argue that, in the name of equality, you too should have the right to correct him/her in public thereby embarrassing him/her too.

  • your boyfriend doesn't want you to talk about your previous relationships, but he is quite happy to talk to you about his even though you have asked him not to do so.

This fails the equivalence test because he is not applying the same rule to himself as he is to you.

If you want great examples of the issues of double standard, I suggest you watch The Big Bang Theory and Everyone Loves Raymond.

There are lots of great examples there of arguments that are double-standards.

Why is the equivalence test necessary?

This test is, I believe, a necessary tool in any relationship where issues of double standards need to be worked out.

The reason for the test is that as human beings,

  • we are basically self-centered and want things our way,

  • sometimes we are not good at seeing things from someone else's point of view, only ours,

  • sometimes we have expectations of others that we don't have of ourselves because we feel that we are entitled. We use it as a way of controlling others, we want to be in charge, we think the rules don't apply to us, ...

And sometimes, this happens because we have a vested interest.

I am sure that, if you wanted to, you could come up with other reasons why we need the equivalence test in a relationship.

Another way of looking at the equivalence test is to address issues of double standards in a relationship.

When do we need to apply the equivalence test?

It is a test we may be able to apply when we are having an argument with someone.

For example, a loved one always wants a 'thank you' from you when s/he does something from you.

Yet, s/he never tells you 'thank you' when you do something for him/her.

And you are arguing about this.

It is also a test we can apply to our attitudes, our wants, our needs, our thoughts,... or to those of the other person, in any relationship we have.

For example, you send emails to a family member who never acknowledges these emails yet loves receiving them.

But, when they send you an email and you have not acknowledged it within 24 hours, they send you another one asking if you received the first one.

This fails the equivalence test because what they expect from you is not what they expect from themselves.

Who needs to apply the equivalence test?

The equivalence test is, I believe, one that is needed in any relationship: friends, spouses, work colleagues, boss-employee, parent-child, team members, ...

The reason being that often we apply different rules, we have different expectations of others then we have of ourselves.

And we don't see it because, as mentioned above, we are basically self-centered.

For example, we might be quite happy to keep others waiting but we ourselves hate to be kept waiting.

Or we expect others to be nice to us, but we don't see how rude we are to them.

Where do we use the equivalence test?

This test can be used anywhere such at home, at work, at a party,...

And we don't have to be mean about it.

We simply need to point out that the argument at hand fails the equivalence test at which point you can explain what the test is.

How do we use the equivalence test?

It's really up to you how to use the equivalence test.

But, don't use it to have your own way.

That is not what it is for.

It is intended to help others see things from our point of view.

And vice-versa.

My suggestion for how couples could use it would be:

  1. discuss the equivalence test idea as one way of dealing with certain issues. Do it while not in a situation where an issue is being dealt.

  2. when a future situation comes up for which the equivalence test would be applicable, just ask calmly, 'does this pass the equivalence test?'


If we could get to the stage of being so self-aware of this disparity between how we want others to treat us compared to how we treat them, we would become better human beings.

And if, as a couple, we both reached that level of self-awareness, then our relationship would surely be a better one.

After all, how can we be happy in a relationship where our partner refuses or is totally unable to see that their behaviour fails the equivalence test.

I was in such a relationship and it wasn't nice. I found it quite stressful.

Michel Joly is a middle-age gentleman who loves reflecting on things, and who is a HSP.

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