Healthy Marriage: The same old argument
If you’re a married person, you can certainly come up with some examples of regular, recurring arguments you’ve had with your spouse: you know, the same old argument. Seemingly little things can suddenly turn into a bigger conflict and leave both parties wondering what just happened. While these episodes seem pointless or nonsensical, there is usually a pretty sound explanation if you know where to look.
The same old argument
Typically, couples working with me in marriage therapy will fall into one of “their” arguments during the second or third session. I let it play out on purpose to observe what happens. The argument usually ends with one or both parties looking at me with some frustration and stating or implying that I’m supposed to do something about it. After all, that’s what they’re paying me for! They may even want me to “take a side” or offer a ruling of some sort, which I inevitably resist.
But what happens next can be pretty cool and enlightening. Instead of getting drawn into the specific content of the argument, we spend time exploring the underlying emotions that are serving as the fuel source for the argument. If there’s a sore spot or a recurring argument, it’s because an emotional wound is getting triggered and there has been no previous resolution.
What’s really happening?
We may not even recognize what the emotional wound is unless we take time to consider the possibilities. Let’s look at an example. Jill sends a text to her husband, Steve, at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday to coordinate dinner plans, thinking he’s on his way home. Steve doesn’t respond right away, so Jill calls him a few minutes later. He answers and she finds out he’s at a happy hour with some co-workers. Jill is quickly upset, and Steve responds defensively stating he told her earlier in the week about the happy hour for a colleague who was moving away. Jill states he did not talk with her about this, and the argument escalates quickly with various accusations flying both ways.
So in this scenario the culprit seems to be some type of miscommunication, but there is really no productive dialogue about what broke down in that regard. The emotions activate on both sides with each party quickly making assumptions based on deeper wounds. Jill does not feel like a top priority in Steve’s life in the past few months and has started wondering if he’s lost interest in her. Steve feels like he’s working as hard as he can but can never do enough to please his wife.
Find (and solve) the problem
The problem is that they are not talking in any productive way about the real issues. And the real issues stem from underlying emotional needs or wounds. When couples learn how to identify these emotional needs or wounds and talk with their partner about them, they can save a great deal of frustration and brain damage in regard to weird, repeating arguments.
Learning to have these types of conversations is absolutely possible, and you may want to get some guidance from a marriage therapist to learn the skill initially. Trust me, it will save you a great deal of time and frustration when the weird arguments go away.
Dr. Mike Kragt, PhD, CAC III, executive director of Grace Counseling is currently accepting new clients to his practice. To request an appointment with him or one of our other couples counselors, click here.