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If you and your partner are getting into the same arguments over and over, you may not be correcting the communication habits that lead to the problem. Part of my and my husband’s problem was our bad communication. We came to our relationship with bad communication habits and had little experience with healthy boundaries.
Identifying Real Issues
Because of our lack of boundaries and poor communication, we found ourselves caught arguing, making up, and having the exact same argument with slightly different details three days later.
Once we discovered that our arguments were similar in nature, we realized breaking the pattern would take awareness around who was having the arguments and less focus on the subject matter.
Our real issues were about the ways we addressed each other and the way we felt around certain topics.
Open Discussions are Vulnerable
Discussing what happened during the argument after we’ve reached a place of calm is vulnerable. I won’t tell you it’s a simple thing to start doing, reviewing an argument that has settled can begin the argument all over again.
We needed to commit to wanting to understand each other and continue reminding ourselves of that commitment throughout the discussion. Compassion and respect go a long way in dealing with vulnerable topics. Listen to your partner, ask that they listen to you. We always have the power to listen without agreeing or disagreeing.
Our Major Issues
After review of a few arguments, my husband I discovered some of our major issues. These are habits or presumptions mostly based in childhood traumas. Every person has their own life experience backing up their methods.
Knowing that allowed us to be delicate in evaluating each others and our own. With a trusted and loving partner, it’s helpful to listen to someone offer their experience of your behavior. Let your partner judge you with love and try to find the grain of truth. When you listen and explore, you will find your own major issues to work on.
Major Issue #1 — Assumptions
Sometimes we use assumptions we’re not even unaware of. We respond to an assumption rather than walking step by step through each reaction. Assumptions can be found in your belief of how someone will respond, the isolated thinking of solutions, withholding information with the belief that it doesn’t matter or won’t change anything.
Assumptions are a way of anticipating certain situations and behaviors. As humans we do this to protect ourselves, but operating in a protective way within an intimate relationship can create disconnect.
Solution: Keep your mind focused on your feelings and needs. Use ‘I’ statements.
Major Issue #2 — Passive Aggressiveness
Passive aggressiveness comes out in so many forms.
- Eye rolling
- Defensive body language
- Sarcastic tones
Getting through miscommunications and disagreements requires acknowledgement of bad habits. When we acknowledge how our behavior is presenting to another person, we build trust and connection.
Passive aggressiveness is typically used when people do not feel permitted to share their honest feelings or perspective. Sometimes we trap ourselves into believing our thoughts are insignificant, sometimes our partner has responded in such a way so many times that we feel unheard. Regardless of the originating cause, passive aggressiveness creates distance.
Solution: Practice active listening and compassionate curiosity.
Major Issue #3 — Defensiveness
Defensiveness breeds more defensiveness. It is the kryptonite of a healthy discussion. Being in a relationship takes a lot of work. Hearing your partners judgment of your behavior is not easy but it’s necessary. Your experience with them matters, their experience with you matters.
Participating in healthy relationships means listening to feedback of your partners experience. We often want to justify or explain our actions in an attempt to be understood. Nobody wants to be considered a bad person or harmful partner. Trying to convince someone that you’re a good partner is defensive. When an experience is expressed genuinely and with respect, it’s our duty as a participant in the relationship to listen and try to understand.
Solution: Practice witnessing your partner’s judgments and welcome the trust you have in their words when it’s not about your actions.
Major Issue #4 — Forcing a Perspective
You’ll get it if you want to. Sometimes we really don’t want to consider our partners feelings. We believe we’re right and their perspective just need some tweaking, correcting, or a boost to reset their thoughts. A mutual relationship means both parties get to be heard, validated, and agreed or disagreed with.
Before you disagree, it’s important to really listen. Validate your partner so they know you took the time to see their side. When my husband feels like he’s fighting to convince me, or vice versa, we’ll say, “You’ll get it if you want to.” Then we walk away. It lets the other person take a minute to think and communicate back honest validation.
Solution: When you begin to feel like opposing forces, say out loud, “You’ll get it if you want to.” Then take a break.
Major Issue #5 — Negative Feedback Loop
Communication skills are best learned in a happy mindset. During our arguments, there’s no shortage of criticisms available. Once we’ve ended an argument we commit to uncovering and improving our unskillfulness, individually.
Thich Nhat Hanh recommends apologizing when you’ve harmed your loved one for your ‘unskillfulness’ in his book No Mud, No Lotus. This has been one of the best tools for my husband and I in moving past the shame of hurting each other.
While listening to each other’s experience is important, we want to be mindful not to try and correct each other’s behaviors. I’m an adult, which means once I’ve apologized for hurting my husband, it’s my responsibility to seek out the right tools to deal with my feelings the next time. I don’t need his criticism or corrections, he doesn’t need mine. We share our experience and trust the other person to work on their skills.
Solution: Avoid criticizing your partners actions, instead express your feelings and ask directly for what you need.
Major Issue #6 — Sense of Urgency
Arguments can be rescheduled. If we begin disagreeing on something, most of the time it can be moved to a later time in the day or another day altogether.
We don’t need to figure out the answer to everything in every moment. If something needs to be decided by a certain date, I write it in my calendar. A sense of urgency has created many arguments between us. After we began couples therapy, the therapist recommended we take breaks from our arguments. This sounded absurd to us because we didn’t believe we could handle other matters of life without resolving the argument first.
The reality is, we’re in a long term relationship. Sometimes we’ll be angry with each other but the kids still need to eat dinner. Sometimes we’ll be hurt by each other, but we still have holiday shopping to do. We committed to a life together, this means we need to make room for those feelings and the life that happens anyway.
Solution: Schedule meetings to discuss certain things like finances, household tasks, kids activities, or communication preferences and keep the topics to the meeting times.
Consistency is the Key
Practicing healthy relationship habits can be done in small steps. Each day I try to be mindful of how I’m thinking about myself and others. Consistently checking in on my own feelings lets me make space for my husbands feelings so I don’t feel intruded upon by his mere existence.
When we don’t know how to function in a healthy relationship, it can feel like we’re constantly vying for time and space. Working on awareness, communication, and being aligned with a partner who wants the same allows us to create the healthy relationships we desire.
Having awareness of our issues doesn’t mean we never repeat them. We can continue returning to compassion whenever we find ourselves practicing unskillfulness.