By Linda K. Laffey, MFT
When voices are raised, tensions are escalating, and feelings are raw, can you stop?
Or does the bickering feel inevitable?
Does it feel like life has become one really long, seriously exhausting, never-ending argument?
Don’t give up on a peaceful, loving relationship just yet.
There are still productive things you can do:
- Breathe. Remember you love this person. Just a few moments to think, walk away, and gain a bit of clarity can help break your normal fight pattern. Better yet, reaffirm your connection with a statement like, “I’m too angry to talk right now. Please give me a little time and we’ll talk soon.” Then come back when you’re calm.
- Take responsibility. Fights are two-sided, especially the never-ending type. Try to gain some perspective. Get beyond blame and irritation to your initial responses to each other. Were you sarcastic or insulting? Have you been withholding affection or silently using body language to communicate displeasure? Is there anything you are doing that might be part of the problem?
- Use humor. Perpetual arguments often signal an overwhelming amount of negative feelings between partners. Whatever the reason, you and your partner have lost the ability to see more than each other’s faults and irritating characteristics. Humor has an amazing way of dissolving tension and reminding you that you are important to each other, you can have fun together, and you are more than one big ball of snowballing negative energy.
- Reach out. It’s hard to argue with a forehead kiss or light stroke on the hand. Touch maintains the sense that regardless of the tension, you belong to each other. Touch often repairs rifts enough to change the tone of a conversation, introduce more compassionate thinking, and reinstate loving connection.
- Kill criticism… not your relationship. Renowned relationship researcher and expert, John Gottman discovered that constant criticism and contempt are two strong indicators of imminent relationship failure. How you fight matters.
- If you start a conversation with character assassination (“You’re so lazy.” “You always mess up.” A look that says “You’re an idiot.”), the interaction disintegrates quickly. Defensiveness, contempt, hostility, and withdrawal ensue.
- No one feels safe, loved, or respected. And you just end up gearing up for the next fight.
- Unless you consciously decide to rein your tongue, consider the impact of your words, and keep your comments and complaints specific and current (“I am bothered by the amount of clothing you leave on the bathroom floor,” or “I’m disappointed that you forgot to pick up dinner.”)
Resolve the underlying issues. Never-ending arguments often signal something more worrisome or bothersome is happening. Sometimes you know exactly what that is and sometimes it’s buried beneath years of arguing about the bills, kids, and other surface issues.
Dr. Sue Johnson, couples therapy pioneer and author, found that at the heart of chronic relationship discord are ongoing relationship concerns that can be summed up in the following questions:
- Will you be there for me?
- Can I count on you when it really matters?
- Will you make my needs equal to your own?
Employing the help of a counselor may go a long way in resolving some of the automatic negative responses occurring in your interactions and communication. He or she could be a valuable asset for getting to the bottom of perceived betrayal, emotional injuries and triggers, or simply help you navigate relationship misalignments in a safe, productive environment.
Never-ending arguments don’t have to signal the end of a good relationship. You just need a clear plan and clear communication to help you override the desire to be right for the desire to repair your relationship and restore what matters most.