Couples who argue often ask if there is any hope for their relationship. In most cases couples who argue can learn to change these patterns and have a satisfying, intimate relationship.
The key word here is ‘patterns’.
Usually we see arguments as being about something:
- one of you doesn’t do their ‘share’ of the housework
- you disagree on how the children are disciplined
- you don’t like the way your partner drives
The list is endless! However, although there are issues which need to be discussed and resolved, arguments are more often not about the issue, but part of a pattern that arises automatically between the couple.
How to tell if you are in an argument pattern
Look at your last two or three arguments. Put aside what you were arguing about (the content), and focus on how the argument went.
Most people will notice a pattern emerging. For example, one of you might be the one who gets angry, while the other one withdraws. Or one of you may criticize, while the other discounts what is said.
If your arguments are like this, then you have identified a relationship pattern. Relationship patterns stop us relating straightforwardly as two people. They make us see our partner, not as who they really are, but as though they are wearing a mask.
Relationship patterns feel very real, but they are not! We get caught up in a pattern like this and it is as though we are forced to act a part. Often we realise that our behaviour has not been constructive for the relationship, but couples often feel powerless to change their behaviour.
We might feel like we have been loud and angry or withdrawn and not feel good about it, but this usually doesn’t translate into change. The next time we are faced with an argument, we will fall into the same pattern.
There is hope!
These patterns can seem impossible to change, yet once we understand how these patterns are created and what needs to be done about them, we can often change our patterns of fighting surprisingly quickly.
The first step is to recognise that you are in the grip of one of these patterns and face it together as something for you to solve as a couple. If you can do this, you will have already taken a major step.
The second major step is to ask yourself how you feel when you are in one of these patterns.
The third step is to ask your partner what they are feeling when you are arguing.
The answers will most likely surprise both of you, because you will each have noticed how your partner behaves, not how they feel. It is how we feel that makes these patterns so difficult to change.
If you are the only one in your relationship who recognises there is something wrong, you can still begin to make some significant progress in changing these patterns by following the steps suggested above. The steps outlined can help you begin to turn around the relationship patterns you find yourself in.
For most of us, working with an experienced counsellor who understands these patterns will be of enormous help in seeing them clearly and finding ways to turn them around. I strongly recommend this to all couples. The good news is that couples can learn to turn these arguments into constructive discussions, leading to deeper intimacy.
During counselling we look in detail at these patterns and develop approaches and strategies for dealing with them.