First, I just want to let everyone know that fighting in a relationship is normal. It is normal. Every couple argues. But have you ever noticed that you tend to argue about the same few things, over and over? These things never seem to get resolved between the two of you. Why is that?
Because you have gotten into a pattern that often triggers the other person's pattern, and then they continue to reinforce and even intensify one another. In couples counseling, we describe this as "the more, the more." The more he Xs (yells, shuts down, doesn't seem to care, etc.), the more she Ys (asks him to respond, follows him around the house, yells, etc.), then the more he Xs, etc. You get the point. So this feedback loop repeats and repeats. I will often tell my couples "I bet one of you can play out an entire future fight without the other person for me right now." They often give me a knowing smile and laugh, "yeah, it's almost always the same way."
So how did you get into this pattern? Often, most couples find themselves stuck in replaying some aspect of the relationships they grew up with such as Same's dad, who that had a sense of loss of freedom when it came to having a family and so resented the family and doing activities with them. When Sam grew up and had a family of his own, he was hypersensitive to "losing his freedom" as well so would book many guys weekends and would look for any signs of being asked to do too much. Obviously this drove his wife nuts and she would ask for more time and more help and Sam would respond by booking more time away. They were stuck in the roles of Independent Bachelor/Begging Wife. This same fight continued until they came into couples counseling to discover why they found themselves in this situation and what to do about it.
The important part to understand is that you can drop any issue into the lap of a couple and they will play out their dynamic much the same. Because what a couple does with this stressor, they will pretty much do with any stressor. Whether it's who is going to take the kids to practice, getting chores done on the weekend, or going to a family gathering. They will play out their The More, The More roles.
As children,, we learn what we live. In our adult relationships, we live out what we learned. Why? Because it's what we know and it's all we knew. So when we get into relationships as adults, we just assume that's what you do. We weren't given other ways so it rarely occurs there are other ways to handle things.
So what to do about it? You learn what your pattern is, AND THEN YOU DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. You make a conscious, deliberate decision to act in a different way. Often, our relationship to our relationship is passive. We act as we act in the relationship and just accept that's the way it is. Now is the time to make an active effort to shape our relationship in a different way. We decide we want our relationship to be healthier and stronger and so we must act in ways that achieve that.
A good relationship isn't something you have, it's something you do. Your partner says something. In the following instant, you have two choices you can make. Your response can be loving or hateful, mature or immature, thoughtful or thoughtless, caring or uncaring. Will you run your response, or will you let your response run you? Your initial response, the one that becomes automatic because you grew up with it, is probably not the greatest one to help achieve a better relationship. It's what has helped to get you guys to the point you are at now. But your cultivated response, the one where you pause and ask yourself what type of response will help me achieve a better relationship, is the one you want to go for. It's the response of an adult in control and who has their eyes on the prize and the prize is a great relationship.
Forming this new mindset takes a second awareness that you need to achieve. It's very much possible to do. It takes understanding The More, The More pattern you have and then actively choosing a new one. One that serves you better. Only then will you stop having the same fights over and over again. I'm cheering for you. I've seen couples do this after being together for 10, 20 and even 30 years. Just because it's what you used to do, doesn't mean it's what you need to continue to do. I say this over and over but couples deserve to be in happy, loving relationships and I believe in the power it gives us. When you are part of a strong couple, it frees you up to go tackle the goals you have in the world and really prosper.
Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She specializes in couples counseling and sex therapy.
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or learning more, please reach out! Click here to send her a message.