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According to studies, it has been estimated that nearly 70% of relationship conflicts amongst married couples remain unresolved. Amongst couples who are dating, recurrent arguments are often a problem, too.
In our previous article, we highlighted a few of the most common sources of conflict in intimate relationships. Many partners, for instance, find it difficult to discuss sex and intimacy. Issues surrounding commitment, priorities, and time spent together also tend to cause feelings of hurt and jealousy. Finances may trigger fights, and bickering over chores is common. Family may come between you and your partner, or past issues and breakdowns in communication might lead to recurrent fighting and frustration.
The good news is that recurrent, “gridlocked” fights often follow similar patterns. By identifying these patterns, we can ultimately work through our problems, achieving a greater sense of acceptance and understanding in our relationships.
Start By Changing Your Perspective
Instead of focusing on never arguing with your partner, consider changing your perspective on the situation. If you and your beau “never argue,” chances are that one, or both, of you is leaving things unsaid. Disagreeing is natural and healthy. Instead, strive to “argue” through discussions, rather than fights. Being patient and respectful while discussing a recurrent problem may be difficult. Responding in a calm and tolerant way, however, will likely result in a more lasting resolution in the end.
Actively Acknowledge the Issues
Instead of waiting until a fight occurs, take the time to sit down and discuss your recurrent arguments with your partner. Review the common issues highlighted in our previous article. Are any of these subjects common sources of contention in your relationship?
Sit down with your partner, or by yourself with a journal. If you’d like, sit down together and both commit to writing things down. Reflect on the arguments you’ve had recently, as well as any major fights you’ve had over the past year. Once you’ve written down the issues that have most affected you, strive to identify similarities between these fights. Are there patterns in what you’re arguing about, how you respond, or why things escalate?
Once you’ve identified any apparent patterns and similarities, strive to objectively identify each partner’s side of the arguments. Try to do this in a non-judgmental way. Perhaps your partner enjoys spending every Saturday with his family; maybe you’re frustrated by the lack of one-on-one time you get with him as a result. You’re looking for more couples’ time and he’s looking to spend more time with his relatives. By seeing the issue objectively, you can see that, in all likelihood, neither of you is “right” or “wrong.” Rather, you’re both approaching an issue from different perspectives, based on your feelings, priorities, and values.
Stick to the Actual Argument
The reason many couples’ arguments become vicious is because they escalate, quickly snowballing into fights about other issues. Strive to keep things compartmentalized. If you’ve got other issues to discuss or deep-seated resentments that are eating away at your relationship, set them aside for the moment and work through them individually, when you’re both able to discuss things calmly. Don’t globalize or catastrophize. Watch your language! “You always do X,” or “You never think about Y,” are phrases that will leave your partner feeling attacked. Though patterns might exist, focus on the present issue. Don’t bring up past arguments or failings. Instead of saying “You’re such a slob! You never wash the dishes! This is the third time this week I’ve had to scrub old sauce off of these plates!” take a moment to pause and reflect. Could you calmly explain to your partner why you’re frustrated, and why you’d appreciate a change in his behavior at this very moment? Though you might feel immensely frustrated, the way in which you approach the issue can make a tremendous difference in the response you receive.
Find Common Ground
Successful couples have often mastered the art of approaching their issues with gentleness and understanding. Never start a discussion with criticism. Instead, seek to find common ground, and work from there. You and your partner likely agree on some aspect of the issue.
Perhaps your girlfriend likes spending money on fancy dinners and weekend trips, but you’re looking to set aside a bit more money for your retirement. Instead of accusing her of splurging on unnecessary luxuries, think about the ways in which you agree. “Darling, I think we can both agree that we enjoy spending quality time together having fun. Both of us really appreciate fine dining and traveling. I’m sure we’d both like to have enough saved to continue enjoying these things during our retirement years, too. Let’s try to think of a solution that allows us to continue living in the present while saving a bit more for our future.” By approaching this issue in a thoughtful, empathetic manner, you and your partner will be much more likely to find a solution that leaves you both feeling respected and satisfied. Perhaps you’ll decide to enjoy a few gourmet meals at home, and focus on planning one or two nice vacations a year, rather than more frequent getaways. In such a way, both of your desires will be satisfied.
Get to the Root of The Problem
In some situations, surface-level fights really are just as simple as they seem. In many cases, however, there are deeper feelings and issues underlying the arguments. Strive to focus on “Why?” as an exploratory question. Don’t let this become antagonistic! Instead, seek to discover the root of the issues. Are you really fighting about dirty dishes? Perhaps, after asking yourself why you’re so upset by the dishes, you realize that it’s because it makes you feel like your partner’s housemaid. Perhaps the real issue is that you feel that he doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing around the house. Maybe the issue, then, isn’t really that you’re having to wash an extra dirty bowl or two; maybe, instead, you’d really feel better if you felt as though your partner saw and appreciated all of the work you do around the house. Perhaps, in addition to helping out a little more with the dishes, a simple acknowledgement of your efforts would leave you feeling better about things. By going deep with “Why?” questions, you might discover that the real issue in your relationship is feeling underappreciated. Perhaps by both vocalizing your gratitude for each other’s efforts and actions, you’d both find yourself feeling better, regardless of the chores at hand.
Though digging deep can be uncomfortable, it’s one of the best ways to really resolve recurrent or emotionally-trying arguments. You’ll likely discover that there are deeper feelings causing your fights to escalate. The fights you’re having are simply serving to bring these issues to the surface.
Reaching Understanding & Acceptance
Though you and your partner may continue to disagree on certain issues, truly understanding one another’s perspectives will help you discover solutions that satisfy both parties. Sometimes, you may simply need to agree to disagree. In many cases, however, getting to the sources of your issues will help you to see that you’re not really fighting one another; rather, you’re approaching issues from different perspectives or fighting as a result of deeper needs that are not being met.
If both partners are flexible and willing to truly listen to each other’s perspectives, even the most persistent long-term arguments have the potential to be resolved for good.
If you and your partner stick together for the long-term future, research shows that your fights will likely dissipate over time. A study of couples between the ages of 40 and 70 was conducted to see how they engaged with one another while discussing areas of their relationships that they needed to work on. After studying the couples over the course of 13 years, researchers noted that most of the couples, over time, had become less critical of each other and less argumentative. Rather, older couples were more likely to show affection and humor while discussing difficult issues. Ultimately, the researchers concluded, long-term relationships are as much about acceptance as they are about love. If we can find ways to accept our partners, their quirks, and their unique perspectives and viewpoints, we can enjoy relationships that are filled with lasting contentment and love.
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