Do you feel like every argument you have with your partner sounds exactly like the last? Do you fight about the same things all the time and often feel like nothing ever gets resolved?
Many couples get caught up in what is known as “circular arguing.” Once it becomes a habit, it can be hard to know how to break it.
Sex, money, division of household chores and differing views on childrearing are the main topics about which couples fight. Every topic has its gray areas. When neither partner is willing to compromise or see the other’s point of view, the same arguments can drag on for years, eroding trust and whatever affection they once had for each other. The mere mention of a certain topic can lead to yet another full-scale argument. When the relationship has reached this point, there often is little chance of breaking the deadlock. However, there is another way. All it takes is a willingness to leave the script behind.
Therapist and author Harville Hendrix has over forty years’ experience helping couples to save their marriages. In his book Receiving the Love You Want, he offers this sage advice to couples whose marriages are in trouble: ‘It only takes one person to change the dynamic of the relationship.’
Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that an empowering thought? By adjusting your attitude and the way you engage with your partner, you have the power to steer the relationship back on course. So how can you turn a sinking ship back into the love boat? Here are some tips:
- Change the script.When it comes to recurring arguments, couples tend to go on autopilot without realizing it. Each partner argues their side, often using the same words and phrases as the last time the topic came up. The result is the same. Both partners feel attacked, while at the same time refusing to listen to their partner’s point of view.
When we focus solely on getting our own way, compromise becomes impossible. So the next time your partner raises the issue, surprise them. Instead of becoming defensive and launching into your spiel, stop and take a deep breath. Ask them why they feel the way they do. Ask them what they see as being the solution to the problem. Actively listen and refrain from interrupting. After they have finished explaining, repeat what they have told you, perhaps by saying: ‘So what you’re saying is….’
This shows that you were listening. Asking for clarification eliminates any misunderstandings. After you have heard them out, thank them for sharing their thoughts with you and leave it at that. Resist the urge to state your own position for the time being. And give yourself a pat on the back. You have just taken the first step in breaking the cycle.
- Building trust again.When you have been fighting like cats and dogs for longer than you can remember, it can really take a toll on the relationship. Show through your actions that you no longer want to argue with your partner about the same old things. Initially, they may not believe you as fighting has become such an ingrained part of your relationship, but by staying calm and looking at the situation objectively, you are showing them you are making a concerted effort to have more positive relations with them. However, don’t expect the dynamic between you to improve overnight. It may take months or even years for genuine trust to return.
- Healthy couples compromise.As the Rolling Stones once put it so eloquently: ‘You can’t always get what you want.’ This is true of relationships as well as life. Sometimes the compromises we are forced to make may seem blatantly unfair. But if you and your partner cannot seem to agree on how a situation can be resolved, maybe it’s because for the time being, there is no satisfying solution.
For example, many partners admit that in the early years when a couple is starting their family, the majority of the workload often unfairly falls on one person — usually the woman. However, this may balance out in later years when the children are older and she finds herself with more free time. In emotionally healthy and mature relationships, both partners take it in turns to put their partner’s needs first.
So what changes can you make in order to create a more loving relationship between you and your partner? Even if you think there is no way back, if you are willing to invest the time and effort, you will begin to see positive changes. It can be hard to break the “circular argument” cycle once this becomes the typical way of dealing with problems within the relationship. But neither partner is truly powerless to fix a relationship that seems irreparable. If one person begins to change his or her behavior and makes an effort to show their partner more kindness and compassion, it is almost guaranteed the other person will notice and begin to respond in kind.