“We’ve been together for 8 years, and over the last few years we’ve been steadily drifting apart. We keep having the same argument over and over, touched off by different things, and we only end up hurting each other. If I try to bring up something that upsets me he just gets angry, and tells me to get over my feelings. We rarely just talk or do anything fun together anymore. When I try to talk with him he gets cold and uncommunicative, and it’s unbearable. What has happened? Why can’t we talk without arguing?”
When a marriage or relationship runs into trouble, the anguish and confusion couples describe often sound like this.
Why is this happening?
When people feel unhappy in a marriage or relationship, they want to find out why. Whose fault is it? A wife may think: Why won’t he be nice to me? Why are his friends (or laptop, or job) more important? We can’t talk without fighting.
The man in the relationship may be wondering: Why did she change her mind about me? I can’t talk to my wife.
Men often feel a painful sense of rejection when the going gets tough.
Whose Fault Is It When You Don’t Stop Fighting?
As the two of you try to discuss your situation, you may find yourselves debating whose fault it is that you’re arguing instead. As you lay out an issue, one person says, “You’re being critical.” The other my reply “You’re being defensive,” and you get nowhere when all you are trying to do is tell each other how you feel.
Daniel B. Wile, (author of After the Fight: Using Your Disagreements to Build a Stronger Relationship) unravels what happens when our efforts to work things out make matters worse. We go from calm partnership to arguing when we become defensive. Without thinking about it, each person throws up a protective wall as emotions rise, blame rears its head, and each person judges the other harshly for their part in the struggle.
When people get defensive, anger grows even more intense. This makes it hard for you and your partner to work together. You want to join forces to solve a problem. Instead you’re fighting in a way that seems unavoidable and beyond anyone’s control.
Even If Things Are Intense and You Feel Stuck, There Is Hope
Even if you feel you and your partner cannot talk without fighting, know that it is possible to return to working things through together again. The challenge is, most couples are not able to see the way out of a pattern that keeps taking hold. Without realizing it, each person’s normal attempts to explain or defend continue to add to the cycle of arguing. It’s important to make a shift, to take a step back for a new view of the situation.
While there are many ways to be happy, unhappiness in a marriage or partnership tends to take on a particular pattern.
- One partner acts as a pursuer, anxious communicator. The other one either gets angry and defensive or withdraws.
- The withdrawer withdraw more, thinking, “I have to get out of here!” to avoid confusing emotions, or another unsolvable argument.
- Pursuing and distancing is like a terrible dance that you keep falling into no matter how badly you want to stop doing it.
What Does It Take to Break Out of the Cycle of Arguing?
The first step in finding a new way to deal with the struggle with is to become more aware of what you are feeling underneath all the anger and turmoil.
It’s like going out in search of different music. There is always a tender need for connection and love. Unfortunately, it gets buried under the turmoil that happens with conflict.
It’s not always easy to work out what you emotionally. Putting your more vulnerable feelings into words takes courage and support. This is precisely where a caring counseling professional can really help.
What Are Some Ways to Become More Self-Aware?
Take a step back and slow down. Look at what you can do to understand your own needs better, when you feel at bit calmer. It may take a determination to let go of wishing for something from your partner for the moment.
On your own, think about your deeper feelings and needs behind the concerns and issues that you have been debating.
If you keep thinking about legitimate complaints with your partner, let them fall away to the side for now. Finding fault is the opposite of what helps most, which is to see one’s own part in the cycle of disconnection. Naming your deeper needs, and owning your part in the disconnection leads you back to the path of connection.
You may start to discover the deeper longing for a warm bond and acceptance. These tender feelings are the ones that fuel love.
It takes calm to be open to your heartfelt needs. It takes work to find words that describe your longing to love and be loved. It takes willingness and courage to express these words to your partner, in a softer way than before.
5 Tips for Breaking the Cycle of Arguing
Here are five simple tips to help you begin shifting away from a cycle of arguing:
- Explore being mindful – think about what you need and where you spend time
- Invite openness – Find ways to be open to your partner and listen, and let yourself feel compassion
- Allow curiosity – Be curious about the inner world your partner is experiencing
- Think about ways to be emotionally available – Learn something new about love and being emotionally present. If a partnership has been painful for a long time, a couple may need something like helpful tips to explore your emotional attachment style.
- Remember your needs are okay: Explore ways to express your needs in your relationship
Curiosity Can Be a Huge Help to Improve Relationship Problems
See if you can become curious about:
- How to calm strong emotions and feel more present to yourself
- Understand your need for attachment (and your attachment style)
- Learning to speak gently for your needs from the heart
- How to respond if your partner is defensive
Empathy breaks down when we are frustrated or angry; being open to and curious about our inner world and our partner’s takes us out of the stories in our head, and lets us reconnect.
Recognizing our own parts in the cycle of helps us see what is contributing to it, and break out of the pattern. Likewise, recognizing our part in the dance of romance helps us see what we might do instead. One person can start the process. You can shift out of the cycle of arguing on your own. But working with a professional marriage counselor can help in finding your voice and new power to collaborate. By shifting your focus to your heartfelt needs with a trusted guide, you can move from anger to self-awareness and compassion. You can find new steps to take to break free from arguing.
Soon you may find you are not asking yourself whose fault it is. You will be able to find new ways help you and your partner understand each other better.