Every marriage has some degree of conflict and argumentation. Even couples in very happy and successful marriage don’t agree on everything all the time. Most couples have a unique type of ‘dispute resolution’ that has evolved over the course of a marriage. When partners can disagree as equals and resolve thorny issues without collateral damage to the marriage, the ‘technique’ isn’t important.
Unfortunately, there’s no set of instructions for managing conflict within a relationship. Not every conflict within a relationship finds resolution in a healthy manner. Fights–often over the same issue or set of issues–can become commonplace and repetitive. Whether the cause or a symptom, it’s a sign that the marriage is potentially in trouble.
THE MEANING OF REPETITIVE FIGHTS:
There are situations where a married couple does have an intractable difference of opinion over a deeply held belief that puts the relationship in jeopardy. More often, however, repetitive fights aren’t actually about the ‘bone of contention’. Instead, they are about underlying emotional issues affecting one or both partners. In some instances, the root cause of repetitive arguments is different for each person. These sublimated issues set off the well worn disagreement and as each partner ‘pushes the other’s buttons’ it escalates.
In other words, a deeper emotional issue sets into motion a negative behavior pattern that quickly ensnares both partners. Common issues that manifest themselves into repetitive marital fights are feelings that trust, intimacy, closeness or security is absent in the relationship. For example, a wife might fly off the handle at her husband’s failure to take out the trash. In reality, the issue might be something more significant than problematic household sanitation. The wife may be questioning her ability to trust her husband in the ‘big picture’ but only reveals that concern within the narrow parameters of the ‘trash argument’. The husband might have the same emotional issue with his wife, or else a negative behavior pattern could be set into motion by his reaction.
BREAKING THE ARGUMENT CYCLE:
So how does a couple go about ‘breaking the cycle’ that causes repetitive marital arguments? The answer is fairly simple ‘in theory’ but significantly more difficult to actualize. It is necessary for a couple to ‘dissect’ the source of conflict in the recurring arguments along with other elements of their relationship. The goal is to identify the true emotional source of the argument and to identify the negative behavioral patterns that perpetuate the conflict.
Understanding the underlying causes of repetitive arguments isn’t easy but it is essential to solving the problem. At this point, more shared examination of the relationship is necessary to identify a solution. Each partner must set aside their anger and communicate honestly about their needs and why they’re not being met. They must be able to remember that their relationship and the individual elements that compose it are more important than the ‘argument issue’. They must also be able to convey to their partner that they understand their needs and reassure them that meeting those needs is a priority.
A MARITAL THERAPIST CAN HELP:
The dynamic that causes repetitive marital arguments and the holistic treatment that can stop them is easy to explain ‘in theory.’ It’s much more difficult for a couple to put into practice, especially on their own. A high degree of ‘marital forensics’ is necessary, and that requires a rare level of objectivity and self-awareness. It’s challenging enough to get the top level perspective needed to get this process started. Very few couples can compartmentalize their conflict while dispassionately performing the self-analysis necessary to find the cause and solution to their recurring arguments.
A good marital therapist, however, can provide the perspective and objectivity essential to breaking the cycle of repetitive arguments. Additionally, therapists have the training and professional experience to assist couples in identifying emotional issues and negative behavior patterns and effectively addressing them. A therapist can’t ‘do the work’ for a couple, but they can outline the steps that are necessary for them to do together.
It isn’t possible to break every cycle of repetitive fights, nor is it possible to save every marriage. It requires a high level of dedication by the couple to the relationship, the process and to each other. Bringing deeply buried emotional issues to the surface is never easy or comfortable. Most importantly, perhaps, it necessitates a willingness by the couple to put forth the effort needed to fix the problem and save the relationship. For couples willing to commit to this often arduous process, the trained perspective of a marital therapist can be highly beneficial.