If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, then you have probably realized the tendency to have the same arguments over and over… and over. There is that “go-to” fight about the issue, but also not about the issue at all.
Maybe your partner notoriously leaves dishes in the sink instead of popping them into the dishwasher, or maybe one of you tends to go a little over budget with purchases, or you’re constantly picking up the ten different pairs of your partner’s shoes from the four corners of the house for the millionth time.
Often there are “little” things that spark the same argument. And so many times, right in the middle of your ‘heated fellowship’, you find that the “thing” you’re fighting about has evolved so far from shoes, or spending, or that gross spoon with the smear of peanut butter sitting in your sink.
Sometimes the issues are much bigger and you’re aware that they are bigger, but they feel immovable. They sit like a boulder under the surface of your relationship waiting to pop up when things get a little out of whack.
I want to pass along a few tips that I encourage couples to implement during the conflict to help you fight fair, and enter into a deeper relationship. It’s important to remember that even the healthiest relationships have disagreements. The goal isn’t to avoid conflict, but rather to leverage conflict to gain greater understanding and develop richness in the relationship.
- Take Responsibility
Taking ownership of your portion of the conflict can be so disarming. It’s easy to look at a conflict and identify all of the mistakes, oversteps, and exaggerations our partner has made. And we often judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions.
What role did you play in the conflict? Taking responsibility for those elements doesn’t negate the responsibility of your partner, and furthermore, taking responsibility doesn’t even mean that your intent was to hurt the other person.
- Own Your Feelings
I mentioned earlier that there can be a pattern to conflicts within a relationship. The same fights about the same things that keep popping up. Understanding yourself more fully can help you more effectively communicate about the issue. Take a moment to think of a typical fight. Now ask yourself, “What actually bothers me so much about _________?” Stop and really listen to your thoughts.
Now ask yourself, “What is something I believe or fear to be true about myself or the relationship that is triggered by this conflict?” Again, take a moment to really listen.
When you give yourself the space to reflect, that peanut butter spoon may shift into a fear of not being heard or respected. Maybe that overspending triggers fears surrounding money and scarcity.
I want to encourage you and your partner to both do this, and then if it feels safe, discuss it with each other. Vulnerability is a gateway for connection.
3. Listening is the Secret Weapon
Sometimes we keep having the same fights because we aren’t truly listening to each other. We finish our partner’s sentence in our head and already have the perfect rebuttal.
Sometimes we keep having the same fights because the message we hear is distorted by those fears or beliefs we talked about up above. When our partner says, “You keep leaving your shoes out,” or “You went over budget again?!” We might hear, “You are irresponsible. You are worthless. I can’t trust you.”
I want to teach you the most ‘couples’ therapy’esque tool that I use. It may feel cliche, but when used correctly it can be a powerful tool to gain understanding in the midst of conflict.
Try this. Sit with your partner to have a discussion. Share a thought. It shouldn’t be too long, perhaps 15-20 seconds of talking. Then pause.
Your partner can then say, “What I hear you saying is…” and paraphrase the message they heard. This shouldn’t be a word-for-word recitation, but rather a paraphrase of the heart of what you are trying to communicate.
If the message they heard was accurate, then they can take the opportunity to respond. If they were off, then you have the opportunity to say it again, perhaps shifting what you say to help them gain clarity, and ask them to try again.
4. Therapy is Totally Normal for Healthy Couples
Calling in for reinforcements doesn’t mean your relationship is in the danger zone! I have met with so many couples who are simply invested in having a healthier relationship. Having a mediator present can help untangle those conflicts that seem to have no solution.
Remember, conflict is a natural, normal part of any relationship. It is how we deal with the conflict that determines whether we grow through it or grow apart. If you could use some help with healthy communication, either as an individual or a couple, we would love to help! You can schedule a free consultation here.
Editor’s Note: The following blog is by Holding Space Counseling therapist, Brooke Urich. She is currently accepting new clients. You can learn more about Brooke right here.