Is arguing a part of being in a healthy relationship? Should you be worried if you seem to always argue about the same things, big or small?
Arguments are an expression of disagreement. Most arguments are an “acting out” of something you can’t get your partner to do your way. Not all disagreements will, however, lead to an argument. Not all arguments lead to agreements, either. That is the most frustrating thing.
So while it’s terribly frustrating to have the same arguments over and over again, the mere fact that you fight does not mean your relationship is failing. Fighting is an expression of intense emotion and sometimes even passion (“I love it when you are angry,” people sometimes say.)
Why Do We Keep Fighting About The Same Thing Over and Over Again?
There are at least two reasons it keeps happening. One is because the issue is not resolved, and you may be in need of some more communication with your partner; or two, you don’t know how to stop the argument in the middle. Our brains are wired first and foremost to win arguments and survive, not to feel good in the moment. Also, once you get going, it is hard to call “time-out.”
The argument may not just be what you disagree about, but also your desire for connection. Even if you come to some agreement or partial agreement, you need to continue to interact. Having the same argument (or a similar one) is a way to do that.
So, there are two parts to your recurrent argument:
— one, the content of the issues you don’t agree on, and
— two, the process of arguing.
Each needs to be approached in different ways. Let’s begin with the content.
How To Deal With The Details & Issues You Disagree About
Sometimes recurring arguments are powerful because couples are unclear about the specifics around what feelings, details, or issues they are affected by. As an example, a couple who has a recurring fight before bed about getting the kids down, locking up the house, and turning off the lights may argue about who is responsible for the tasks, but they could also have feelings about issues like when it’s time to go to sleep.
To understand why your fights happen again and again, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you each know what the argument is about? Tell each other briefly what you think you are arguing about, really. Then, repeat it back to your partner (“What I heard you say was…)
- State your position and have them state theirs. Just listen; do not judge or attack. Repeat back what you heard.
- Is there a compromise or a new “third” solution? Propose a middle ground or a cooling-off period to think up something new. Say why it is important for you to come to an agreement or solution.
How To Deal With The Process of Arguing
The other common occurrence is that couples begin to fight about how they fight. Feelings can be hurt by raised voices, angry tones, or even word choices. Depending on the perspective of a person, sometimes the goal of the fight is to win. Other times, the goal is to get to an agreement. If you’re stuck in a pattern of arguing about the same thing over and over, it’s important to understand where you get stuck.
To gain resolution to your argument, take these 7 steps:
- Notice that you are arguing or about to argue (“I think we are about to get in a fight.”). When this happens, call a time-out and take 10 deep breaths before moving on.
- Remember when you last had a fight and how long it lasted. Share that information with each other and discuss how long you remember it took you to get over it or makeup.
- Set a time limit on how long you will discuss your disagreement. To stay on track, you may want to set a timer on your phone or tell Alexa to remind you. Alternatively, if it is truly heated, you may want to agree to postpone your argument to a future time when you’re calmer and less distracted. Whatever you choose to do, make the promise to your spouse, and KEEP IT.
- See if you can let go of the emotion of the moment and find a solution. If you can’t let go of it, set a future time to continue the argument.
- Say “thank you” to your partner for at least trying to hear you even if the argument is unresolved. The benefit to your marriage is that you are both working on a positive resolution, even if it takes time it’s worth it.
- To help remind you both of the possible positive outcome, remember the last time you resolved a disagreement.
- Celebrate that you can argue and still stay together. If this leads to makeup sex, don’t be surprised. It’s more common than you may think.
Do We Have To Get Divorced?
No! Learning to argue and disagree is a skill you can learn. If you can do it well, you can resolve almost anything. In his book The Intimate Enemy, George Bach teaches couples how to “fight fair” as a way to increase intimacy. He talks of two kinds of aggression in a relationship, hostile aggression where there is an intent to hurt the other person, and impact aggression where you are trying to get your partner’s attention.
Being angry and arguing may simply be a strategy you have for being heard. If you can work it out to calm down and really listen to each other, you are actually trying to be together in a more positive way. An argument can be seen not as a breakdown but as an opportunity to open up honestly. It is a way of reaching out.
Being in a couple does not mean you have to agree on everything or even most things. It makes your relationship more interesting. Just because you disagree does not mean you are breaking up. That only happens if you both want to. Decide that you are committed to your relationship before you argue. Then you can be more honest without worrying that you might break up over it all.
Where Can I Get More Help and Suggestions?
We have written the book Lifelong Love which is loaded with suggestions on how to fight and how to stay together. Please take a look at it. We have years of experience as couples’ counselors to draw on. If you would like to set up a consultation call us at 434-971-4701 or send us a secure email here.