Every couple fights differently and most of the time what they're fighting about isn't the real argument. Some deeper hurt or frustration usually gets triggered by the way they express themselves if something is bothering them. For example:
- You said were going to help me shop and you didn't because your just don't give a damn about me.
- You never even bothered to tell me you couldn't come to mom's dinner because you had to work late.
- This is the first time in two weeks that you cleaned the kitchen and took out the garbage and you expect me to be grateful?
In each of the above accusations, only the angry feelings get expressed. The deeper emotional need of the complaining lover never gets touched. Even worse, much of the time couples sweep their real emotional needs under the rug until one just blows up at the other. As couples counselors, our job will be to help you re-frame or re-label arguments like those above so you can find the hurt beneath the punch and see how much you really need your lover and your lover needs you. Each of the above accusations could be rephrased in the following manner. For example:
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- I was so exhausted when I left work and it was really important to have you there, not so much to help me lug the groceries, but just for you to be there.
- I really missed you at dinner and I know this will shock you but so did my mother.
- I was so grateful when you cleaned the kitchen and took out the garbage. It also made me realize how much I need you to help me more often with the other household stuff.
This kind of reframing will always soften your anger and bring out your compassion for one another. It will also help you remember why you first fell in love to begin with and what you dreamed of getting from each other back then.
After we help you to reframe your arguments, we'll encourage you to tell the story of how you first met and fell in love. There's always a good story here! We'll also encourage you to more deeply share with each other the things that happened to you before you met: your past romantic relationships, what you remember it felt like growing up in your family, and the ideas and values you learned from your parents and grandparents. In short, all the experiences that have shaped your values, beliefs and attitudes about love and marriage and above all, your expectations of what you should and can get from your lover.
When times get rough and you find yourself bickering or clamming up over little things that upset you, we can help you re-label arguments to find the hurt beneath the punch and give you good relationship tools to help reduce frustrations, anxiety, depression and stress.
Andre Moore, Director, Marriage Couples Counseling and Life Coaching in New York City
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