Not again! Having the same argument you’ve had with your partner a dozen times before? You’re not alone. Relationship researcher John Gottman reports 69 percent of marital conflicts are never resolved. That adds up to a whole lot of repeat disagreements.
You know better than anyone the hot topics in your relationship. Many couples argue about extended family (in-laws, usually), money, and parenting styles. Common issues may also include jealousy, substance use, and negotiating the right amount of time to spend together.
You may be sick of hearing your partner’s same list of complaints and you may even be tired of your own. You both realize there’s got to be a better way, but how do you go about it?
Try these suggestions before that same disagreement rears its head again:
1) Identify the core feeling issue. If you’re fighting about the same topic, that could mean the core feeling issue hasn’t been adequately identified. Fights usually start when your partner is making you feel a way you don’t want to feel. Perhaps you feel disrespected, unheard, or marginalized. Generally, we don’t pinpoint these feelings in the midst of an argument. If you’re continually fighting over how his mom speaks to you — and he just doesn’t see it — you’re left feeling invalidated. So, the fight escalates (and never resolves) because it’s not actually about what his mom said, it’s about your core feeling issue —invalidation — remaining unsoothed and unaddressed by your partner.
2) Talk about the core feeling issue in a peaceful moment. Think about where your upset is actually coming from. Is it that she doesn’t want sex again? Or is it that when she turns you down, you feel rejected? If you can identify the feeling behind the issue, bring it up at a time you’re not fighting about it. Open up dialogue after you’ve done your homework about your underlying feelings.
Script suggestion: “I don’t want to argue about this, but I need to tell you that I feel really crappy when you turn me down for sex. It makes me feel like you don’t find me attractive anymore.”
3) Be vulnerable. The idea of being vulnerable fills many of us with trepidation, but it’s not about being a defenseless puppy who is open to attack. It is about letting your partner see what’s really going on for you. Many of the things couples fight about are leftover wounds from childhood. Maybe you’re upset your partner overspent on those hockey tickets, but what you’re really afraid of is having him turn into your irresponsible dad who drove your family into financial ruin. If that’s the case, say it.
Script suggestion: “It freaks me out when we spend a lot on things we don’t really need. It reminds me of what my dad did and it upsets me.”
4) Make a priority pact. This is an important one many couples miss, especially when they’re having repeated arguments caused by external circumstances. Decide together that you have one another’s back. That’s your baseline. It doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with her position, but it’s a place to start. You’re not married to your rude neighbor, so why waste an ounce of energy siding with him? It costs you nothing to agree your neighbor is a jerk, and it makes your partner feel supported. You may care deeply for that friend, relative, or coworker your partner is critical of, but you haven’t committed your life to those people. Put your emotional investment where you’ll get the highest return.
5) Agree to disagree. If all else fails, acknowledge to yourself and each other that you’ll probably never see eye to eye on the issue. No amount of yelling, scolding, or shaming is going to change your partner’s mind or have him see it your way. Accept that and agree to stop fighting about it. You can validate your partner’s position without having the conversation devolve into another ugly encounter.
Script suggestion: “I know it bothers you when my brother drinks too much at Christmas. It bugs me, too. But our fighting about it isn’t going to change anything.”
All couples argue. Arguments have their place in relationships because they can help couples define their needs and expectations. But too much arguing about the same topics can be corrosive to any union. Start by rejecting old patterns and choosing new, better ones.
Script Suggestion: “Fighting over the same things isn’t good for us. Let’s try something different. Read this article and tell me what you think.”