Why You Keep Arguing With Your Partner and How To Stop
Most small arguments can be easily settled. You might argue about a small comment your partner made or a look they gave you. Maybe you had some misunderstanding. From a rational perspective, these are not hard to solve. But they blow up due to two things I’m going to talk about.
Now in order for you to stop the cycle of arguing, again, these two things need to come together. You can’t have one without the other and there needs to be a meeting in the middle. Like the old saying goes, “it takes two to make a thing go right.”
Here they are:
When you are annoyed about something your partner did, how you deliver your feelings will make all the difference. If you share your feelings with a harsh tone, your partner may feel attacked. What do people do when they feel attacked physically? Of course they will go away or they will fight back. They will not hug you in return.
It’s the same way when you deliver a harsh tone: if someone feels attacked or criticized they will put defenses up. They will not receive what you are saying.
The other unhelpful way of unhelpful delivery is to be passive-aggressive. Passive aggressiveness is showing your anger through other means than words. The silent treatment is an example. You might say nothing is wrong but your actions are saying something different. It’s a way to find power in a seemingly powerless situation. Your partner doesn’t know what’s wrong and you hold the keys to that information.
Sometimes you feel you won’t be heard if you shared your feelings, so you have to resort to this. This is why I said earlier that you can’t make this work if only one person is trying. I will talk about your partner being a receiver and being a good listener later.
When you stop being passive-aggressive, you open your heart and share your feelings. This can be scary because you now have let down your guard and they have the keys to your heart, your feelings and hurts. Vulnerability is hard but it is needed.
Some people, when they are angry, they deliver their anger by shutting down. This is different than passive aggressiveness. Where passive aggressiveness has an anger and power energy to it, shutting down stems from fear and insecurity. People who shut down worry that they will start an argument. You worry that you will say something angry or make the other person angry. And that feels very scary.
This is where short-term gain equals long-term pain. You may feel like you are “avoiding” the conflict but in essence, you are making the argument bigger by shutting down. Your partner will start to feel frustrated that you are shutting them out and not communicating with them.
The healthiest way of sharing feelings is to be honest but loving. Not passive and not aggressive but assertive.
Now in order for this to work, the other party needs to be able to receive the feedback that their partner is giving. However, one of the biggest contributors to arguments I hear about from couples is defensiveness.
This happens on the receiver’s part. When your partner comes to you, it is hard to receive it and you become defensive.
In my opinion, defensiveness stems from two sources: pride and shame.
Pride says “I’m right, you’re wrong.” Shame says, “you’re right I’m wrong.” When you are prideful, you are looking for ways to defend why you did what you did. You want the other person to just see it your way. Your way is the right way and they are wrong. You are focused on yourself and why your point of view is better.
Some people feel that if they can just convince the other person that they are wrong, the argument will stop. But this is untrue. You will never solve an argument this way.
Shame says, “you’re right, I’m wrong.” “I did something bad.” Here the focus is still on yourself, and how you messed up. The result is hiding emotionally, shutting down, and berating yourself internally. It’s still counterproductive because your partner still can’t reach you.
What your partner needs is for you to focus on them, not yourself. Both pride and shame put the focus on self, not the other.
What does it look like to focus on the other person and not be prideful or shameful–the underlying causes of defensiveness?
It’s empathy. If you have empathy, you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. You do not judge their feelings. You focus on them, not yourself. Empathy says, “no one is right or wrong.” It says “you are hurt and I’m here to care for you.”
Now this is hard when the other person was hurt by none other than yourself. This is where it will take some ego strength and a strong sense of self to be able to tolerate this.
People often think that you are” weak” if you admit you are wrong. To me this is illogical. It’s so easy to defend your ego. It’s so much harder to put it aside and see the other person’s point of view. It takes maturity, self-control and empathy. In other words, it takes some serious EQ! And that is strength.
I will say, though, doing this is hard. We are only human and no one likes hearing we hurt someone or did something that annoyed our partner. Sometimes our internal voices from our upbringing or our past hurts and trauma tell us that when we make mistakes we are bad people.
So we avoid anyone telling us we made a mistake. If we can embrace and accept ourselves as flawed but still deserving of love despite those flaws, we will not be so quick to reject or become defensive when someone comes to us when we’ve hurt them.
3. Bringing It All Together (and stop the Arguing):
So to sum it up: you and your partner need to sit down and agree to work together. A relationship is something that you need to continuously maintain and it takes both people.
First, agree that if someone is annoyed, angry or hurt, that they will try their best to use a soft start up. To speak honestly and from a loving energy. It doesn’t have to be super sweet and mushy, but it can still come from a place of love. Love often takes different forms than just sweetness.
Understand that how you start up the conversation can affect the trajectory of your whole day. Sometimes thinking about the outcome before you say something is helpful.
Secondly, agree that the receiver will put aside their own shame or pride. They will try to see the other person and listen to their thoughts and feelings and take responsibility for their part. They will empathize and commit to doing things differently.
(I want to end with a caveat that this is mostly for people who are arguing about small things. If there are bigger things going on, it is still good to try, but if, for example, your partner is cheating on you, it’s going to be very hard to have a loving tone. We have to be realistic about what we are humanly capable of doing.)
Learning how to communicate when there is a disagreement can be very difficult. However, if you can work towards a soft startup, and a willingness to listen (vs. defend), you can often times solve problems very easily. Stop The Arguing
About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples counseling and marriage counseling in San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas. If you and your partner need help in your communication, feel free to learn more about her here.