Do you remember watching fairy tales and seeing the words, “And they lived happily ever after” written at the end of the movie? When I was a little girl, I used to think that it meant that Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and Snow White never had a fight with their beloved. I thought that they stayed in eternal bliss. In contrast to these fairy tales, the couples on TV or in the movies who argued ended up divorced, drunk, or unfaithful. They seemed miserable.
These experiences made me think that a good relationship meant eternal bliss and that if my partner and I argued, we were doomed. Having such a rigid and unrealistic expectation, set me up to fail in many of my earlier relationships. Then I realized that arguments and dissatisfaction at times is a normal part of every relationship. The key is being able to discern whether the arguments are helping your relationship grow or whether they keep you going in circles.
Arguments are a normal part of any relationship. They are also more likely to occur as one or both of you evolve. Here’s a few reasons why people in relationship argue:
* Arguments can be a dysfunctional habit you picked up from your family of origin (note, you may unconsciously engage in the behavior even when you’re actively trying to change it).
* If you fear intimacy (e.g., because you didn’t feel loved as a child or you were badly hurt by an ex), arguments can arise as a way to create distance.
* Arguments may occur when one or both of you “changes” (even if that change is for the better) because the primal fear of the unknown may be triggered.
* Arguments can arise as a way to try to obtain unmet needs.
Write down the answers to the following questions to help determine whether the arguments in your relationship are productive:
1. Are we arguing about the same things over and over again? If yes, what has improved?
2. Do our arguments remind me of something from my past? (e.g., does the subject matter, energy, or dynamic between the couple feel familiar)
3. Do I spend more time dealing with challenges in the relationship than being in a place of peace?
4. Does our arguments help me avoid an activity or a feeling that I don’t want to experience?
5. Does our arguments help me feel something that I am longing to feel (e.g., feeling in control, passion, loved, etc.)?
6. What is my part in keeping the cycle of arguments alive?
7. How am I growing and evolving from this relationship? (What am I learning about myself, the other person, or about relationships?)
Evaluate your answers. As you read through your responses, what does your intuition or gut feeling tell you about the nature of these arguments? Are they productive (even if only incrementally)? Where is there room for improvement?
The mates we choose often trigger and test our limits, offering us the perfect platform to evolve. Nevertheless, arguments in relationships should be productive, yielding to a more satisfying and intimate relationship for both of you. If you feel like your arguments go in circles and that you are not being heard, or receiving the support that you want, it’s time to get some help. Consider working with a therapist or coach that works with couples.
A neutral third party who can help everyone understand the situation better, serve as a translator and offer effective communication tools. But don’t forget, the first step to any healthy relationship is to start with a strong and healthy you!