It doesn’t surprise me that the couples I work with have the same arguments over and over again. Whether it is about how to load the dishwasher (my personal favourite) or not checking in with their partner when they accept an invitation, these tiffs seem to go on forever.
One thing is for sure, these circular arguments can act as a distance regulator, keeping couples disconnected from one another with both ending up feeling a drift from the other. Arguments can also lead to a self-reinforcing negative loop which both people become fixated on being right and winning.
What couples have taught me over the years is that when they get caught in a loop of a narrative about “what the spat is about” they often lose clarity of what the facts are. What starts as a simple declarative statements about “taking out the rubbish” becomes an indictment on the relationship.
So can couples learn to argue better and meet somewhere in the middle? How can they still feel connected during and after arguing Take a minute and pause and yourself the simple questions:
- “What story am I telling myself” and then ask “Is this true?” and “How do I know it’s true?”
- Reflect on what is really bothering you. Does this have anything to do with the argument or is it bring up historical issues that are being triggered? It’s useful to think about this and even more helpful to share it with your partner. It helps put it in context, take ownership of your feelings and let your partner know you can sometimes feel sensitive about a particular conversation. Actively listen to your partner. Gently repeat what you heard and ask if there’s more that needs to be said. Always acknowledge your partners feelings and try and resist jumping in to defend yourself. Create more space for them to say more.
- Notice if you are coming into a conversation/argument with preconceived stories about your partner.
- Ask yourself if your arguments are a way of avoiding deeper and more serious issues that a couple find impossible to address.
- Remind yourself that in some cases, no one is right. Terrence Real writes in his book “US: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship”, that many people waste time and energy squaring off over the “true” version of certain events in their relationship, when there isn’t one. He claims this is a trap and says “There’s no place for objective reality in personal relationships”
Arguments impact on us more than we think and most couples have brilliant tried and tested responses that help protect themselves from the hurt. Reaching out to your partner is a good way to tell them you want to reconnect and feel safe again, not saying you’re wrong. It’s a starting point.