“What if every moment of conflict is a chance to make your relationship even stronger?”
~ Crismarie Campbell
When a couple keeps fighting about the same thing over and over, it can be due to a number of things, which tend to fall into two categories:
- Neither of you is listening to the other person.
- One or both of you aren’t able to talk about your feelings.
- You each want the other person to solve the problem.
- You don’t even know what the problem is.
Core relationship differences:
- You don’t want to acknowledge the differences you actually have.
- Differences in you and your partner’s preferred life choices.
- The thing you fight about is less scary that the thing you’re afraid to fight about.
Communication issues can actually be solved rather easily by learning better communication skills.
A good therapist can teach you these skills, but here are some things to consider:
Most people aren’t very good listeners, because you’re always thinking of your own point of view, how the other person is wrong, and what you want to say next.
Real listening includes hearing how the other person feels, how it fits into how they see themselves, their goals and dreams, and believing that their point of view is worthwhile.
It means giving the other person’s wants and interests an equal footing with your own, that is, not less important and not more important.
Talk about feelings.
This is actually difficult for most people because you may not have very many words to describe what you feel. In addition, it’s hard to separate how you feel from what you want—which are two different things. Feelings are also not value judgments.
For example, words like “good”, “bad”, “wrong”, and “right” are NOT feelings.
They are opinions and judgments. Feelings are usually one word, such as hurt, angry, happy, confused, disappointed. Other people don’t MAKE you feel, so blaming the other person for how you feel will only keep you arguing in circles.
Neither of you can solve the other person’s problems.
Since our feelings, thoughts, opinions, desires, etc., are inside of each of you, neither of you can “fix” or force those things to change in the other person.
Good communication about your individual needs and preferences, and working together to help each other accomplish what you want is the best way to move to a solution. If one person “wins” and the other “loses”, the relationship hasn’t gained.
Too often couples don’t know what they’re really fighting about.
Fights about chores, money, time together, friends, where to go and what to do are very often really fights about:
- Do you love me?
- Do you care about me?
- Do you respect me?
- Are my feelings and needs important to you?
If you’re not dealing with the real feelings, then the fight will never get resolved.
Core relationship differences are much harder to solve and much scarier to really talk about. They bring up anxiety, insecurity, defensiveness, and fear of the relationship ending. Couples often cover these deeper issues with fights about things that aren’t as frightening.
The longer a couple is together and the stronger their commitment is to the relationship, the more likely they will be able to talk about how they are different, not just how they are alike.
Different perspectives, different skills, different abilities can all make a couple stronger.
But, when a relationship is new, the trust and the deep bonds needed to acknowledge differences haven’t had time to form yet.
Try to see your differences as strengths, as interesting, or as quirky rather than as something threatening.
Couples who can’t come to accept each other’s differences rarely last long term.
Life choice differences.
Nora and Jim were high school sweethearts. Both wanted to be teachers. When Jim decided to open his own construction business, the relationship became very rocky.
All his money, time, and energy went into the business, and Nora felt left out and misled. She didn’t want to give up her dream of them working together as teachers.
Differences in life choices can be hard to face and difficult to negotiate.
These can include differences in education, financial expectations, where you live, the people you know and hang out with, the number of children you have, and even sexual orientation.
These issues can change the course of the relationship, and are therefore, often very scary to confront. Fighting about money, time, or selfishness, as well as blaming each other can be easier to do than facing reality.
Red flags and non-negotiables.
Everyone has certain values and expectations that they really can’t live without. These are often seen as “trust” issues.
When you’ve fallen in love with someone who you suspect is cheating, lying, manipulating, being coercive, or is deeply breaking your trust expectations, it can be very hard to admit to yourself what is going on, and even harder to confront the other person. So, you may get into circular fights about daily, less threatening, issues.
Because you’re not facing the real issues, these fabricated fights never get resolved. However, they may keep the status quo until you feel strong enough to face the real issues.
If you are stuck fighting about the same thing over and over, then you need to seriously face the fact that something in the relationship is not working.
Getting the help of an unbiased therapist who can teach you needed communication skills as well as help you resolve whatever underlying issue is sabotaging your relationship can make a huge difference, save lots of wasted time, and minimize hurt feelings.
Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT – www.margalistherapy.com
Fighting without ever reaching a solution is so frustrating. You go round and round and nothing changes.
Many people make the mistake of fighting to win. This is a major problem because when you win somebody else has to lose. Having winners and losers in a relationship almost always spells trouble.
Fighting should be about getting enough information to reach an agreed upon solution even if the solution involves a compromise or letting go of your position in favor of your partner’s position.
To do that you both need to have all of the information. When fighting gets nasty, people get defensive. When this happens the actual topic of the argument becomes secondary to winning.
When your partner is upset about something, the goal is to get curious.
Don’t make the assumption that you already know his position. Whatever the complaint, it usually isn’t somebody’s fault; it’s rather a problem to be solved. Reminding yourself that you are not to blame can help you avoid the defensiveness trap.
The first step in conflict resolution is to manage your reactivity.
You need to be calm enough to be able to think and avoid becoming defensive. Even if you are being blamed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s your fault. The goal should really be about finding out what the issues is and how your partner thinks or feels about it. Ideally he would also adopt the same curious stance with you.
These neutral types of discussions/fights usually bring people closer together.
People feel that their partners care enough to listen and be curious. Being listened to really goes a long way towards relationship harmony. Additionally you are learning about each other- your likes and dislikes, feelings and needs. Knowing your partner and being known by your partner helps to create and strengthen connection.
The next time an issue comes up take a deep breath and soothe yourself so that you can participate in a respectful and useful way.
Ask your partner the questions you need answered to really understand what’s going on with him. Don’t escalate by defending yourself or blaming him. When it’s your turn, make I-statements so that you can communicate with him without him getting angry or defensive.
Some issues never really get solved because people are different.
One person is messier than the other. You have different ideas about how to manage money. Keep the lines of communication open and try to reach compromises whenever possible.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
Communication is difficult for most people because we want our agenda heard and accepted.
But what couples don’t understand is that each person thinks they are right, when it comes to their opinion. So, arguing, conflict, resentment, frustration and even rage develops because there is no resolution or compromise.
Do you really want your partner to interpret and assume they understand what you are thinking or wanting?
Of course not, so here are some things to consider the next time you have the same kind of fight over and over again:
1. How do you have safe and effective communication.
Then don’t ever say, “He should’ve known I wanted a romantic evening out, so I’m really mad he’s so insensitive.”
Instead, tell your partner, in words, what you are feeling and what your desires and expectations are. You both need to practice good listening skills so there will be no disappointment and no assumptions.
The biggest relationship disaster is continually having “drama” instead of peace and harmony in the home.
2. Also, the best thing to do is be flexible whenever possible, but always maintain the values that are very important to you.
While compromise is an important quality in resolving conflicts, never compromise who you are for the sake of anyone else.
Keep your integrity and the standards that you live by, so you won’t feel put upon or diminished by your partner. Honor yourself by thinking independently and enjoying your own perceptions and opinions.
Live authentically, speaking and acting from your own convictions and values.
In order to remain in a healthy relationship, you need to improve the quality of your communication skills so that you are not rehashing the same things over and over again.
Staying true to yourself, but also valuing your partner, allows you to work through your issues.
If you can’t, then moving on may be the next necessary step in your life.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
If you’ve been fighting with your partner over the same issue, you’re not alone.
The most common fights couples have are traditionally over money, sex, quality time and chores, to name a few.
Not only can repetitive arguments be emotional draining for each person involved, it can eventually lead to distance, discontent and a slow and unfortunate end to a relationship.
If you’re frustrated and at a loss of what to do, remember this.
1. It’s “normal” to argue
Barring that there is no verbal, psychological or physical abuse in the relationship, a degree of conflict in a relationship is “normal.” Conflict means that you and your partner are separate individuals with different feelings, thoughts, perceptions, expectations and experiences. Conflict shows your differences.
2. Remain positive
While it can be quite discouraging when the same issue is brought up repeatedly, if you allow negativity to take over, not only will you take things personal, but you’re more likely to sink into a hole of a “I don’t care” mentality.
This can be far more harmful than the issue itself. If you find yourself in this place, step back, pause and look at the big picture.
3. Respect differences
When couples are in a negative cycle, they get caught in the “blame game.” Then the resentment towards the other partner stems from not the problem itself, but how the problem is being addressed. Mainly the lack of respect.
So try to respect each other and your differences even when you don’t agree.
There will some things you “agree to disagree.” In that case, respecting (accepting) your partner’s opposing view will be far less exhausting than trying to change his mind.
4. Move towards “the middle”
When couples argue, especially over emotionally charged issues (like sex and money), they polarize. Polarization happens when each partner holds their ground on what they believe to be “right”, resulting in polar opposite positions.
The main problem with this is the issue at hand gets lost in the “I am right, you are wrong” stance.
If you’re going through this, try to move toward the middle and get away from “who’s right.” Instead, step back and ask what are we trying to achieve as a couple? What is the goal? Is it to get chores done? Spend more time together? Improve intimacy? Try to work together.
5. Seek understanding
Conflict in a relationship points to something deeper in a relationship. It represents the couple and individual’s feelings, needs, values and dreams.
Try to seek understanding.
What may be your partner’s deeper needs? Is it a need for partnership? A need for togetherness? A need for communication?
If you’re at a point that you can’t talk about these issues, learn healthy communication skills.
Take a communication class with your partner. See a couples therapist. Go to a retreat together.
When partners “listen to understand” and remain respectful, many things can shift.
Not only will conflicts subside and frustrations reduce, but intimacy improves. Intimacy is that feeling of closeness that we all strive to have.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC – www.phoenixcounseling.net
Are you having the same conflict over and over again in your relationship? Do you find that once it is resolved you find yourself only hours, days, or weeks later in the same conflict?
This is a common phenomenon for couples.
My hope is in the following paragraphs I can provide you with some practical tips for stopping the cycle of conflict.
Defining the Problem
Do you find yourself during conflict blaming your partner? This is a natural reaction to have however when you have this reaction you create a partner that becomes defensive. Your partner in turn becomes too busy defending himself against your attack that the problem you were attempting to address gets lost. I want to challenge you to look at the problem in a new way.
Neither you nor your partner is the problem; instead it is how you are relating that causes the conflict.
It is important to me mindful of how you are communicating as this can often make the conflict worse than what you were initially communicating. Once you define the problem as a relational problem you take away the blame game. Now we can focus on resolving the problem.
Triggers That Lead to Conflict
In relationships there are triggers that lead to the conflict. Each relationship is different, but I have noticed some triggers that seem to be more prevalent in relationships.
To assist you in discovering the triggers in your relationship I have created a list of twelve of the most common below:
b. Mind Reading
d. Silent treatment
e. Bringing up the past
g. Tit for tat
h. Being bogged down in semantics
j. Raised voice/yelling
k. tone of voice
l. Walking away from partner during conflict
Do any of these sound familiar in your relationship? Do you recognize your partner or yourself using any of these triggers?
One of the most damaging and common triggers is making assumptions. It is not by chance that I put it at the top of the list.
- Do you make assumptions about what your partner is saying during a conflict?
- Are you verifying this assumption with your partner?
- How does this assumption affect your communication?
I encourage you to ask yourself these types of questions for all of the triggers in your relationship. You need to be aware of and understand the triggers in your relationship if you hope to prevent them from repeating.
The Relationship Conflict Cycle
An interesting phenomenon that occurs with couples is the relationship conflict cycle. The cycle begins when you use a trigger in a conflict and it results in your partner using a trigger as a response. This creates a circular reaction in which you both feel the conflict remains unresolved.
Let us take a few of the triggers above and look at how this cycle may appear in your relationship.
For example, you make an assumption during a conversation that your partner meant to hurt you by what he said.
In response to your assumption you change the tone of your voice and start to bring up past occurrences where you felt your partner intentionally hurt you.
In response to your tone of voice your partner starts yelling and brings up other irrelevant hurtful events that occurred in the past. In response to your partner you become angry and leave the room.
As your partner follows you out of the room to continue the conflict you give them the silent treatment.
Eventually your partner will leave you alone as you will not respond. At this point you both leave the conflict feeling blamed, not heard, or loved.
Due to the pain caused during this conflict neither of you bring it up again which leaves the conflict unresolved.
Until the next time you make an assumption which results in you changing your tone of your voice and the pattern above starts all over again.
The above example is just one common conflict cycle I have seen in my practice. It is important to note that couples may have several cycles and it may not look exactly like the one above. What is important is to understand how the triggers in your relationship lead to the cycle.
How to Change the Conflict Cycle
Now you may be wondering, I figured out my triggers and my cycle. Now how do I change it? There are four steps to changing a conflict cycle.
Step 1: Define the problem as how you are relating versus one partner’s fault.
This is crucial to stopping cyclical conflicts. You cannot move onto the other steps until this step is complete. Both partners in a relationship are responsible for the conflict.
It is how you relate and not one individual person’s fault.
If you cannot view the problem as such it will be very difficult or nearly impossible to change how you have conflict.
Step 2: Identify the triggers in your relationship, with emphasis on your own.
Make a list of triggers together with your partner. Once you both create this list you will start to become aware of when and how you use your relational triggers. This will help reduce blame and assist in identifying the cycle and how starts.
Remember it is easy for us to identify the triggers our partner does but this can lead to the blame game, which then causes your partner to be defensive. Taking personal responsibility for our own triggers is key to changing the conflict cycle
Step 3: Identify your conflict cycle.
I gave an example of a conflict cycle above and how triggers feed it. Can you identify a similar pattern in your relationship? This one is tricky and may require assistance from a couple’s therapist.
It is very difficult when you are living a conflict cycle to identify the exact trigger patterns. Even as a couple’s therapist, I will most likely need assistance in my own relationship to discover the cycle.
If you can identify the cycle without assistance, the most important part is taking personal responsibility for your piece.
Initially, even after you have discovered your relational triggers, you will still get stuck in the conflict cycle.
Let’s use the example I used above regarding you making assumptions about your partner intentionally hurting you. You will continue to make this assumption, even after you have discovered it as a trigger, often resulting in the conflict cycle. The important part is to take personally responsibility for the trigger.
For example you might say to your partner, “I am sorry, I made an assumption without verifying it with you, I know it escalated the conflict”. It is important to remember that even after discovering a conflict cycle you will continue to do it.
Step 4: Practice, patience, and change.
To change the conflict cycle you will need patience. I know this is hard to hear as you want immediate change. It did not take you a day to get into the conflict cycle and it will not take a day to get out.
To change the cycle you will need to take personally responsibility for you piece. This includes continuing to identify your own triggers that lead to the cycle and identifying the cycle after it takes place.
By continued practice of identifying the triggers and the conflict cycle you will notice your relationship will struggle less.
Not only will you see less conflict but you will be in conflict for a shorter period of time. Now an important piece of this is that you will continue to have conflict, all healthy relationships do, it is how you resolve them that is most important.
Danger Zone: As I mentioned above, it can be very difficult to get out of relationship conflict cycles without the assistance of a couples therapist.
Here are several reasons you may need a couples therapist:
a. You can identify triggers but cannot identify the cycle.
b. You can identify the cycle but not the triggers.
c. The conflict continues to escalate even after identifying the triggers and cycle.
d. You cannot identify triggers or the cycle but are stuck in the same conflict.
The most important thing to look for when seeking a couple’s therapist is someone who has experience with relationship conflict patterns.
Lyndsey Fraser, MA, LMFT – www.relationalconnections.com
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