Sick of the same ol' he said, she said fights? Every couple has hot button topics that always dissolve into an argument. I bet you're thinking of a few of your's right now.
Fighting is not necessarily a bad thing. The families and cultures we grew up have different "standards" for how often arguments happen and whether they are upsetting or not. Some couples I know are passionate people and fighting is a part of life. Others find the smallest argument upsetting.
Regardless, every couple has arguments that never get solved. It's time to fight smarter. I'll show you how to do that. First, let's jump on the knowledge train and find out why some fights never go anywhere.
Ways We Get Stuck Fighting
There are three types of relationship dynamics that keep you stuck. The first is confirmation bias. This is when you gather evidence to support your belief and ignore evidence that challenges it. We do this because it provides order to our feelings. It looks like this: feeling hurt > seeks out evidence as to why someone hurt us > ignores evidence that the person didn't mean to hurt us = confirmed why we feel hurt.
Another unhelpful dynamic that occurs is negative attribution theory. This is when you attribute any short-comings of someone else to a negative component of their personality. Such as if they are late, it's because they are careless with their time. I would take it a step further and say people often also attribute to negative intentions. The person is late because they don't care about my time. Now for yourself, we will often take into account the circumstance. I am late because traffic was bad and I was really busy at work. We don't often do this for other people. We assume it's with a negative intention and due to a character flaw of the other person. This is really harmful in our close relationships because these become building blocks for how we start to see the other person. One negative thought on top of the other.
The last unhelpful dynamic is the negative escalation cycle. This is one we often do without realizing we are doing it. It's when we push the buttons of the other person to get them to commit the behavior we accuse them of doing. Why? It's another one of those things that gives us order. Even if we don't like the chaos, there is something comfortable in the predictability of it. So an example would be if I always say I hate how you yell when you get really angry and then I continuous talk to you about something negative to the point of you getting really angry and yelling.
What You Control
It's easy to see how unhelpful each of these dynamics are but if you are anything like me, you might be saying well I'm not the only one in the relationship that's responsible for our problems! You are right. You are not. But accepting that you do have some responsibility and recognizing the things you can change, regardless of it the other person changes anything or not, gives you your own power over the parts of relationship you can control, yourself.
Accepting that you can only control yourself in a relationship is the most powerful shift you can make in a relationship. Once you realize that you will never get someone else to change but what you can change is yourself and they will most likely change in response, you are on the path to a happier relationship.
Reflect, Re-do, Repeat
Recognizing these 3 relationship dynamics and then working on them can have a big impact on your relationship. After you have your fights, reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors during that fight. Were you making assumptions about their behavior? Did you attribute a behavior to a character flaw and then stew over that until you are mad and then go to that person already angry? Did you then push some buttons that you know will make them angry too then say that you can never talk to them because they are angry? Did they try to offer an explanation and you only took a few pieces of information that fit why you were angry and then you ignored the rest?
So next time something bothers you, start asking yourself some questions about your thoughts. Catch yourself before they get too carried away. Am I making assumptions? Instead, get curious. Ask what happened. Am I only gathering the evidence that supports those thoughts? Instead, shake those thoughts off and commit to having an open mind to listening to everything the other person is saying. Am I pushing my partner to commit the same old fight that I say I'm sick of having? Instead, pause the discussion and say let's come back to this in 20 minutes after we each have a moment to cool down. Let's start the conversation off with a hug too so we remember we're on the same team.
You can change these common relationship dynamics and help prevent fights by making conscious, deliberate decisions to not continue the same patterns. We like predictability so if you find yourself slipping back into this, it's okay! We know about them for a reason, because it's a common thing for people to do. Just recognize you are doing it again, remember the goal is to reduce fighting, and then commit yourself to doing it differently next time. You've got this.
Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives. She lives with her husband, children, and extremely fat dog.
Want to Schedule An Appointment?
Click Here to Contact Me.