How To Communicate With Your Partner Without Arguing About The Same Old Things
It starts off so easy. You can talk about anything. You can even disagree and debate without fazing your affections or the relationship itself. At some point, however, you forget how to communicate with your partner without arguing.
The topics don’t necessarily change. But somehow your communication does.
And right there is the irony: One thing changes because something else doesn’t.
The same old things that trigger your ire and make your eyes roll get to be irritating in their repetition. “Not this again!”
And, before you know it, you’re either going out of your way to avoid communication or bracing yourself for a fight.
Before solving the problem of how to communicate with your partner without arguing, however, we need to understand the what and why.
Even the healthiest, happiest relationships involve arguments. It’s part of the natural “tension” that leads to growth. No struggle, no growth.
And the complete absence of fighting can be a sign of resignation, especially if you have been in an unhappy marriage for years.
Solvable problems are just as they sound: solvable.
- “It will make my bookkeeping work so much easier if you label your receipts and place them next to the computer.”
- “The used tea bags on the counter leave stains. Can you please throw them away when you are done with them?” (Nod to Charlotte, ‘Sex and the City.’)
But the perpetual relationship fights you keep having? Those are rarely about the issue-of-the-day. They represent a deeper need and longing.
According to Esther Perel, if you’re always fighting about the same old things, one of three issues is probably at the core:
- power and control
- care and closeness
- respect and recognition
And it’s here, in the abyss of un- or under-acknowledged basic needs and unresolved issues, where the real work of communication happens.
So how do you unravel all the presenting evidence to get to the motive for your recurring arguments?
Here are some helpful tips if you need to learn (or remember) how to communicate with your partner without arguing about the same old things:
Remember that fighting is usually a sign of caring.
Granted, fighting isn’t always a good thing. Criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, for example, are red flags of instability in a relationship.
But the repeated fighting, supposedly about the same target issue, is usually a cry for help and a statement of caring.
Both of you desperately want to feel better. You want the relationship to run more smoothly. You want to grow. You want to feel closer and have deeper intimacy.
You just don’t know how to accomplish those goals, so fighting becomes your way of “not doing nothing.”
Communication in relationships always involves navigation through unfamiliar territory. You both come to the relationship with different histories, different relationship modeling, and different response and attachment patterns.
Conflict-resolution, then, is less about a win-lose proposition and more about a learn-adapt process.
And that means listening – to both yourself and your partner – without judgment or punishment.
And learning how to be a good listener starts with greater self-awareness.
By identifying, understanding, and accepting your own feelings, you will be better able to do the same for your partner.
Listen between the lines.
As you work on your own self-awareness by learning to listen to your own feelings, listening to your spouse/partner will become easier.
Your goal isn’t to have a knee-jerk reaction to comments like, “You always ignore me in front of your friends.”
It’s to listen, with your heart, to the aching to feel valued, cherished, and acknowledged.
Rarely is the “real” issue the targeted issue. Usually what we don’t understand and haven’t resolved within ourselves simply needs an external place to land so it can be dealt with. “See me…heal me.”
Acknowledge and validate that you are both on the same team.
This concession can feel impossible in the heat of the moment: It’s you against me, me against you, the person doing all the work against the person doing nothing.
Instead of seeing your arguments as adversarial, choose to see them as different approaches to (ultimately) the same goal. You love one another. You want the relationship to work – for each and both of you.
Have your partner’s best interest at heart.Sometimes the argument really is about the topic presented.
And, in those cases, if you’re not being asked to violate your values, make the requested adjustment to resolve the issue. (Do those wet, staining tea bags serve any purpose on your white marble countertop? Probably not. Throw them away and take that frustration away from your spouse.)
When the argument is about a “perpetual problem,” however, it’s time to put on your big Buddha ears and listen for the deeper meaning.
The real issue may be a need for a shift in communication dynamics. And that means unearthing old patterns and implementing new, healthy ones.
“I feel exhausted from working full-time and doing most of the childcare and housework myself. When you suggest that you want sex and I’m still doing chores, I feel objectified and completely unvalued. It’s as if you don’t even see or appreciate me.”
What is the underlying cry here? And what kind of shift needs to happen in how you communicate appreciation and value for your spouse in the context of your own yearning for connection?
Remember, you’re on the same team.
Make it your personal and relationship goal to help heal old wounds.
One of the most beautiful gifts of marriage is its ability to be a place of healing for old family-of-origin wounds.
And one of the greatest tragedies of marriage is not opening this gift and learning how to use it.
Learning how to communicate with your spouse without fighting may start with self-awareness, but it’s what you do with that awareness that is determinative.
When you set your heart on helping to heal your spouse’s old wounds, you also set your intention on not doing more damage.
You learn your spouse’s triggers, and you don’t trample on them.
You open yourself to new learning curves, both self-directed and therapy-guided.
When you make the effort to communicate more effectively with your partner, your life becomes about turning over stones.
Discovery, if it is to do more than satisfy curiosity, comes with new commitments.
Each new commitment, accepted in the context of the gift of discovery, offers new opportunities for growth.
And growth – toward one another — leads to deeper intimacy.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.