Are you tired of this? Does it seem like you and your partner are constantly fighting?
Renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman discovered that 69% of couple’s problems are recurring. More than two-thirds of the things a couple fights about are the same issues, coming up over and over again. Sound familiar?
I’ve worked with too many couples to deny the fact above. All couple experience this to one degree or another. And it can be exhausting to fight about the same problem over and over again. So many couples tell me they thought they had solved something only to have it pop up again. How can that NOT be tiring?
In my own relationship, one recurring problem we have is my cleanliness. My partner’s standards of clean exceed mine. I am often faced with her tardiness. Four-and-a-half years together, and I now expect a certain degree of tardiness on her part. Even if these exact issues aren’t similar to yours, I’m sure you can relate.
So why is it that some problems don’t seem to have any solution at all?
Problems Recur Because We Are Different
Yes, the above statement is simplistic. But if you keep it in mind, it can be profound and effective. Instinctively, we want our partner to be like us, or at the very least understand us. But understanding only comes when you are willing to give it. Next time you find yourself in one of those recursive arguments, telling yourself “Here we go again,” slow down and try to show some understanding.
Of course, it’s really never that simple is it, but if you keep reading, I can offer some insight on the subject.
A useful first step to resolving conflict is to make a map of your lover’s heart. What does he care about? What is most important in her world?
As noted, we should approach perpetual problems by offering understanding. And that’s all. You don’t have to offer any more than that, just the opportunity for them to feel like they have expressed themselves successfully and make sure they feel heard and understood.
We do it by giving understanding to our partner. Notice, I only said, “Give understanding.” This seems overly simple, but as a solution, it can work like magic. When your partner feels heard and understood, you may find that she loses interest in fighting.
How Do You Give Understanding?
Concretely, the first thing you do is ask questions. Remember when you first met your partner and you were both infatuated? Odds are you spend hours inquiring into each other’s lives, trying to learn all the detail you could.
Now try to remember how that made you feel.
I know that it made and continues to make me feel special. But when we fight, when we have conflict, we forget to ask questions. We focus on ourselves. In the early days, you enjoyed getting lost in someone else and temporarily forgetting yourself. It’s hard to remember to do that when you’re upset, especially when you’re upset about something that seems to come up over and over again.
After working with hundreds of couples, I can honestly tell you that questions make or break love. The healthiest couples I’ve ever worked with all tell me that they never stop learning about their partners. Happy couples remain interested and inquisitive about each other.
A Case Study
I remember one couple in particular who constantly argued about who would send in the rent check. Some of you may relate to that, some of you may think it was silly, but it was a big deal to them, on a constant basis.
At the end of our session, I guided the couple in asking questions. The husband learned that his wife was undergoing constant stress in her position as a stay-at-home mom. He gained insight into the pressure that she was under and realized that she felt overwhelmed in taking care of their children. The wife also had some “aha!” moments when she found out that her husband was sick and tired of his job and wanted to quit. He also felt guilty because he wanted to be at home more and wasn’t able to do so.
That information had been there the whole time, of course, and just one session allowed both of them to find out information that made a world of difference in how they interacted with each other and treated each other.
The next time I saw them, I asked if the rent check issue had come up again. And, of course, it had come up; neither of them had sent it. But this time both of them were invested in offering understanding to the other instead of accusing the other of forgetting. The wife knew that her husband was short on sleep that week. The husband recognized that being a stay-at-home mom with two children meant she was spread thin. They made a point of thinking about their partner and not just themselves.
This couple wasn’t able to truly listen to each other until they made the effort to inquire about the other’s world, priorities, concerns. What started as an ongoing problem turned into an opportunity for them to strengthen their marriage after ten years.
I find this dedication inspiring. Realistically, we face problems that may never actually end. You partner probably has quirks that he or she will not change. Transformation comes from compassion. When we face challenges, we can offer understanding through asking questions.
So Now What?
Next time you face conflict with your partner, try some of these techniques to implement what you learned today.
- When your partner is upset, ask him or her why it is they feel so passionate about this specific issue
- Make sure your partner knows and sees that you really want to understand
- Listen for key points and then use active listening to gain clearer understanding
Here’s an example of how you can implement this technique.
“Honey, I’ve noticed that you get really upset when this comes up, but I don’t know why. Why is this so important for you?”
Now take a moment to be quiet and listen. Take in the information offered, and perhaps ask follow up questions to clarify so that you truly do understand.
“Wow, I never realized that me doing that made you feel unimportant. That certainly wasn’t what I wanted. What is it that you would like to see happen instead?”
You’ll notice that agreeing to do what your partner says is not part of this technique. Just listen and ask questions. Appreciate the situation and why it keeps coming up. Note what you learned. Trying to solve a problem keeps the problem the focus. Where there is understanding that is often an answer, and if there isn’t, there is still compassion, which is another word for love.
A word I often hear in these circumstances is “disconnected”. The prefix dis- means to turn away from. So when someone tells me, “I feel disconnected from my partner,” what I now hear is that “I feel like my partner is turning away from me.” When you turn away, you are not listening, and you are definitely not showing interest or compassion.
Feel free to leave a comment or a suggestion of your own.
How do you think you can apply this couple’s breakthrough to your relationship? Is there a problem you have in your relationship where you can apply this kind of understanding?