In every relationship there are arguments. It is just a fact of being that close to someone. Disagreements, within reason, shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing in a relationship, but rather an opportunity to practice healthy and good communication skills, as long as they are resolved effectively.
But what happens when you have an argument, seem to resolve it, but can’t let the residual anger and frustration go? This happens with many couples. You (or your partner) think the conflict has resolved only to find out later on that your other has been stewing over it for days (or weeks).
Why Does it Happen?
There are several reasons why the remnants of an argument may hang around after the perceived resolution.
- The problem isn’t really solved. It is not unusual for one partner to acquiesce for the sake of peace in the relationship. While he/she may think they are being the bigger person in letting things go, this can often backfire. When a conflict isn’t truly resolved to the satisfaction of both parties the issue that initiated things doesn’t go away. As a result, it can cast a shadow over other areas, sometimes resulting in anger that shows up in unexpected or disproportionate ways.
- The hurt was deeper than admitted. Sometimes what seems like a straightforward problem and resolution to one partner is actually something quite painful to the other. If the partner experiencing the greater hurt can’t, or doesn’t, articulate the pain they are feeling then it can get glossed over. That pain doesn’t magically disappear. More often it shows up in other places or results in one partner feeling despondent for reasons they can’t explain. It may be that the hurt partner doesn’t even recognize the origin of the pain they are experiencing. They may try to rationalize it or focus on what they think they “should” feel rather than the way they are actually feeling.
- The argument you had wasn’t about the real problem. If you are continually arguing and seemingly making-up only to argue about something else (or the same thing) shortly after, you may be missing the actual problem. This can be a vicious cycle. People at times may not even recognize what is really bothering them or they don’t want to admit it, and as a result continue to pick the same fight over and over again.
What Can You Do?
In nearly all the above cases the biggest portion of the solution is to talk. That, of course, is often easier said than done. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what you need to talk about or how to get started. Depending upon whether it is you or your partner who is holding onto the argument the approach will be different.
If you know that you are having a hard time letting go of an argument(s) you may have to take some time to really evaluate your feelings. Understanding why it is that you are unable to get past what should be a resolved issue is an important first step. The following steps can be useful in figuring these things out for yourself.
- Write things down. Putting on paper what you are feeling can help you organize and later articulate your feelings. It can also help you recognize what is actually bothering you.
- Say it out loud. Even if it is alone in your car or to the mirror in the bathroom, say in one or two sentences what it is that is bothering you. This will let you begin the conversation with your partner more easily.
- Talk to your partner. Things won’t resolve without talking about them. Trust me, they don’t just go away. Once you have a better grasp on what is really bothering you, talk about it.
- Seek counseling (when needed). There are times when handling things on your own can become overwhelming, or fail to yield a resolution. If this is the case, the help of a professional counselor may be the best next step.
It can be easy to take a “make-up” at face value, but sometimes there is more going on than there appears to be. If you notice that your partner seems to be bothered even after an argument has resolved, pay attention and be ready to talk. Keeping the door open for conversation will help keep you on a path to getting past arguments.