Having the same fight over and over? Here's a three-step solution

Have you ever wondered why you and your spouse keep having the same fight, over and over?

Psychologist Leon Seltzer, in a piece for Psychology Today, cites three reasons that this keeps happening: 1. Unconscious patterns you’ve learned as a child, watching your parents fight; 2. Using anger to protect your ego; and 3. Failure to understand that you and your partner have some “core differences” that are simply “not resolvable.”

According to Dr. John Gottman, the marital guru known as “The Einstein of Love,” roughly 70 percent of marriage conflicts are never solved. Notes Kyle Benson, in a blog post at gottman.com: “According to Dr. Gottman, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only nine percent of the time. This leaves 91 percent of our relationship ripe for miscommunication.”


Step one, it appears, is understanding the nature of the conflict, that is, whether it’s a solvable problem, a perpetual problem or a gridlocked perpetual problem. Explains Michael Fulwiler, editor in chief of the Gottman Relationship Blog:

“Solvable problems can be about housecleaning, disciplining children, sex, and in-laws. Solvable problems for one couple can be about the exact same topics that could be perpetual problems for a different couple. A solvable problem within a relationship is about something situational. The conflict is simply about that topic, and there may not be a deeper meaning behind each partner’s position. A solution can be found and maintained.

“Perpetual problems are problems that center on either fundamental differences in your personalities, or fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs. All couples have perpetual problems. These issues can seemingly be about the exact same topics as what for another couple might be solvable; however, unlike a solvable problem, these are the problems that a couple will return to over and over and over again.

“Gridlocked perpetual problems are perpetual problems that have been mishandled and have essentially calcified into something ‘uncomfortable.’ When a couple tries to discuss a gridlocked issue, it can feel like they are ‘spinning their wheels’ and getting nowhere. The nature of gridlock is that hidden agendas underlie the issue.”

How do you break the gridlock?

Marriage and family therapist Andrea Brandt, writing for Psychology Today, suggests three ways “to stop having the same fight over and over.” She recommends “reality testing,” that is, “testing how real the fight, and your feelings, are.” Reality testing breaks down into three steps:

1. Identify your real feelings. Says Brandt: “Anger almost always covers up truer, deeper feelings. You feel angry when your partner RSVPs you for a party you hadn’t yet agreed to go to, or when he or she tells you they like you in blue when you’re wearing a green shirt. You must look past the initial angry feeling and consider whether or not there’s another emotion bubbling up as well.”

“You don’t feel angry because of the RSVP; you feel like your partner is trying to control you. You don’t feel angry because your partner said you look good in blue; you’re scared your partner doesn’t like the way you look right now. If you let yourself really delve into your feelings, you’ll discover there’s more there. That other emotion is the real feeling.”

2. Assess their true value. Notes Brandt: “Once you have connected with your feelings, you can examine their accuracy. Is your partner actually trying to control you?” Brandt says it’s important to recognize how wounds from the past manifest themselves throughout our lives, making it all the more important to examine our behavior, and assess their true value.”

3. Reconsider the encounter and react appropriately. Brandt explains: “Now that you know how you’re really feeling, and you know how to check your feelings against the facts, you can differentiate what you assume you know from what you definitely know. You can think about what your partner did or said that upset you clearly and rationally, instead of filling in the blanks and overreacting.”

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