It's not really about what you think it is! Learn what's really underneath it all.
Pssst. I have a secret. This little nugget of insight just might force a whole paradigm shift in how you view your relationship. It just might change everything - for the better.
The arguments you have with your partner aren't really about what you think they are.
It's not about the dishes or who is "always" late, it's actually about the feelings these experiences evoke in each other on a far deeper level. The myriad of things that couples argue about are often aren’t actually what fundamentally drive couples in distress.
According to Sue Johnson, PhD, it’s “a primary fear of rejection and abandonment.” That's right, you're fighting to avoid losing something; your partner, yourself, your relationship. Rarely is it ever about the event that inspired the emotion. What's really going on is something much deeper and more powerful.
In addition, questions around one's worth can come up. This occurs particularly for those who had less secure childhoods and attachments with parents or a history of receiving negative messages about their value. Typically, the more secure one feels about themselves, others and the world the less likely they are to be triggered on this primal level.
It will serve you and your partner well to tune into what each of you are bringing into your relationship. Do you come from a place of trust in things being all right or one of uncertainty? This will drive much of the dynamics between you both.
So how can you fix this? Change your focus...
If you are having a disagreement with your partner, try to shift your focus from the "incident" to the underlying emotions that the incident evoked. Here we're talking about the feelings that often get covered up by the surface complaints. For example, what story does your partner believe about what your behavior means about him/her – or the relationship?
To use an example, what does it say to your partner when you're "always late"?
- Do they interpret your behavior to mean that you don't care about them?
- That you don't value or respect their time/schedule?
- Maybe they even feel like your "lateness" is you telling them that you believe that you're more important than they are.
If you can start to see your partner through this new lens; past the behavior and into the sea of what the behavior invokes in you, you'll be far better equipped to stop wasting time going round on round on the details.
The next time your partner does something that irritates, angers or upsets you, before you launch a grenade, ponder for a moment what his/her action means about you, how he/she feels about you or the relationship. If you look closely and honestly enough, you can then approach your partner from a much more heart-centered place. Instead of, "I can't believe you made me wait alone here in a restaurant for you again," you could try, "I feel really unimportant when you're late. It almost seems as though you don't care about me when this happens."
Approaching your partner from a feeling place will usually get better results. Additionally if you remember that we all seek safety and security in our relationships, you can better understand how even small perceived threats to that can be a trigger for both partners.
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the author of The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples, a cost-effective alternative to counseling for the DIY couple. She is the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com, with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health - and has a private practice in Marin County, California.