If you were to think about the reasons you have argued with your partner in the past, I bet your mind goes straight to your thoughts, your feelings, or what you did or didn’t get from them. This is the way people generally think and it’s only natural to first focus on ourselves, our needs and desires that we might have. We have been cultivated as a species to look out for ourselves in order to survive the many life challenges.
The problem is, when both partners in a relationship are focused on themselves it leaves little room to understand the other person. It’s like trying to solve a math problem by adding two numbers, only the second number isn’t there and you can only see one number, making it impossible to get an answer to the problem. In order to become effective at solving any argument in a relationship, whether that be an intimate relationship, friendship or familial relationship, we must first learn to LISTEN.
There are several different reasons couples argue in the first place. While in the therapy field, if I am working with a newlywed couple in a session, we tend to focus on issues surrounding finances, difficulty communicating, new roles or the dynamics of each partner’s extended family and the extent of the involvement that their family has on the couple’s newfound relationship. These types of concerns are common for this stage of a couple’s relationship.
However, if I am working with matured couples who have been together for several years, the issues tend to be pertaining to loss of love or affection, infidelity concerns, and parenting or life role challenges. Many times, I will come across couples who seem to be facing challenges in career vs. family commitment, as well as individuals who wish to establish more independence and discovering their identity apart from the relationship. These types of challenges are present when life factors outside the individual, create stress for the relationship and it’s something many of us face today.
It’s hard to find the balance between self-nurture and relationship-nurture, and it makes it difficult when we, ourselves don’t understand the stressors that are causing the invisible tension on the relationship we so dearly hold onto in our lives. In order to have the awareness of what stressors are affecting our relationship and causing that tension, we must first build skills of SELF-AWARENESS.
In therapy, we have the training and opportunity to help couples take the time that they need to reflect and build awareness, take ownership of their actions in the relationship, and then learn the skills to open their hearts and ears to their partner’s perspective. The clinician is trained to help establish respectful boundaries in the session that aid the couple in understanding their partner’s words, and not discrediting them, as this happens so often during an argument.
It’s easy to see your areas of improvement when you are in an objective headspace, like an eagle soaring above a corn field, able to view the big picture. Sometimes, when we are involved in an argument with our partner, we feel helpless because the experience is completely subjective, words are harmful, and it can often feel like we are being personally attacked.
Even if that is not the intention of our partner to cause us distress, the experience of an argument is innately very personal. Yet, when a person is going through an experience subjectively, such as an argument, they often find themselves in the corn fields, not able to see the big picture. To be affective at conflict resolution in relationship dynamics, we must first SEEK HELP and knowledge from others.
A few ways to argue unsuccessfully include compounding your issues, becoming defensive, lack of or inopportune timing of communication. Of the most important things to remember in communication is the goal to speak and listen for understanding of your partner’s world, not your own world. In addition, therapy can be an environment to learn how to listen for understanding, look for meaning, and address rather than avoiding the problem with your partner.
As a whole, everyone has gone through difficult conflict at some point in their lives and it makes it especially hard when it exists within your most intimate of relationships. There are many reasons people argue but we don’t have to make our differences a constant conflict, we can accept that there are better and more effective ways that we must learn to have SUCCESSFUL COMMUNICATION with our partner, than what we know today.