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Arguing again?

If you find yourself arguing again and again your relationship could be in deep trouble.

Everyone has them from time to time but if arguments start to dominate, relationships will be eroded and start breaking down. It’s a myth that only dysfunctional couples need  relationship therapy.

Here’s what you need to know…

It’s often the case that hours, weeks or days before an argument ensues there has been some underlying nit picking. The dissatisfaction, annoyance, resentment and little disagreements build up causing unrest.

These underlying feelings are just waiting for the smallest and simplest of things to occur to trigger the full blown argument. The shouting starts, it gets louder and hurtful things get said in the heat of the moment. The accusations fly out of our mouths and blame is laid squarely on our opponent. the tears often flow and sometimes it gets to physical blows, doors slam and egos are bruised. Feelings on both sides are running raw and the relationship has been damaged. It can be hours, days or weeks before things smooth over and rarely is the underlying problem addressed. The underlying problem is not addressed because it is not recognised. This is why some people seem to be constantly arguing. It can becomes quite an addictive habit if you are not careful.

But why does this happen?

What causes us to behave this way?

There’s lots going on here but most of it is below our conscious awareness.

Let’s get curious and dive in…….

Firstly, were you aware of any expectations that you may have had of the person you argued with? Expectations that they did not meet?  For example, did you expect them to behave in a certain way and they didn’t? Did you expect them to know something and they didn’t? Were you expecting them to say something and they didn’t? Were you expecting a specific result from them or expecting them to agree with you or take your side or back you up and they didn’t? Did you expect them to know what your expectations were only they didn’t?

Can you see how our expectations of others can cause us to feel hurt or let down. If you have a lot invested in the expectation of the other person and they don’t meet that expectation then you are going to be pretty upset. When you get upset you are likely to want to question, accuse or blame the other person who immediately gets defensive and retaliates and an argument follows.

BUT………….. was the other person aware of your expectations?

If they weren’t aware then you have to ask why ? Did you communicate your expectations to them or did you make assumptions? Are you at least partly to blame for the breakdown in communication or for making assumptions? Hard as it may be, if you can take responsibility for your part in the argument rather than putting all the blame on the other person you start to take control of the situation.  

On the other hand, if they were aware of your expectations but they still didn’t meet them it begs the question why?

Were your expectations unreasonable in some way? Was the other person trying to prove a point? Did you ignore any reservations the other person may have had about your expectation? Is there an underlying reason why they chose not to meet your expectation which has nothing to do with the current situation. Maybe it’s their way of trying to get the real issue to be heard, seen and validated?

For example the husband forgets to put the bin out and the wife has a go at him for being lazy and forgetful. She feels in that moment that she does everything around the house. He feels unjustly accused and criticised and an argument, triggered by a bin, erupts as he jumps in to defend himself.

The real issue here could be that the wife feels overwhelmed by everything she feels she has to do around the house. She feels taken for granted, unsupported, undervalued, unappreciated and invisible. Plus she feels she cannot say anything in case she either makes the husband angry or he’ll reject her. So she ends up projecting her feelings on to the husband for not putting the bin out. The reality is she has been feeling put upon for some time and can finally take no more.

Arguments also arise when both parties have a deep desire to be right about something. Each party becomes emotionally charged with the need to be right. In that moment they value being right more than they value the relationship. This situation is driven by the ego standing front and centre of each party. Sadly, it cannot be calmed by rational thought in the heat of the moment.

Everyone’s behaviour is always trying to meet a need in them. It’s feedback on how they are feeling, how they perceive a situation. Behaviours, such as those described at the top of this post, show up because we are not so good at voicing our thoughts and feelings. We don’t feel emotionally safe to express what we are really feeling so we subconsciously project what’s going on in our internal world onto something seemingly trivial.  Arguing about silly things hides a much deeper problem which feels too difficult to address.

 It is unrealistic to suggest that we can go through life without any arguing. However, it can certainly become much less frequent and much less intense if we learn how to look our differences through a new lens.

Learn to become aware if you are being drawn in to the argument or notice if you are the instigator of the argument.

Either way, what is it that you or the other person really needs right now?

What is it that is driving the need to argue? Illness, tiredness, hunger, worry, stress, resentment etc.

Can you be the person to diffuse the situation? Can you let go of the need to be right in that moment? Can you show love and compassion towards yourself or the other person?

Can you let go of the need to be right to preserve the relationship? (this doesn’t mean you are wrong and the other person is right!)

Can you agree to calmly and respectfully talk about what the problem is without judgement or criticism towards yourself or the other person.

Can you agree to disagree on something and still remain connected?

Once you become aware of the patterns which form arguments and the part you play in them you can start to make conscious changes. Your thought processes and behaviours can be consciously modified to serve you better. This in turn will lead to more connected relationships with your partner, your children and family, friends and work colleagues.

Learning how to de-escalate an argument as soon as possible or even to prevent one from occurring in the first place is a good skill to have.

Arguing can be addictive as it activates the survival response within us. When this response is activated it gives us a hit of adrenalin and cortisol. This fires us up and enables us to fight or flee from the perceived threat, our partner’s accusations! Then when we need another hit we look for an argument to fulfil this addictive need within us…….this all happens below our conscious awareness.

How interesting!!

Another issue which causes arguments to erupt is boundaries.

Children are pretty good at pushing the boundaries set by a parent. They push and push until the parent either gives in or gets angry. These responses are not helpful in the long run. If the parent gives in it’s often done with resentment. If they get angry straight away they are already on the edge setting the stage for an argument. How many parents have found themselves drawn in to an argument with two and three year olds? Clever aren’t they?

When we are tired or worried or feeling worthless it’s easy to let our boundary down if someone challenges it.

A typical example is if you have just been dumped by your girlfriend or boyfriend and your mates encourage you to have a drink to drown your sorrows, then another and another. You don’t normally drink but what the hell. You are hurting, feeling rejected, upset, angry and worthless. What does it matter if you get drunk?

 This causes an internal argument between your values and your hurt feelings, your rational brain and your emotional brain. Your internal arguing will always be won by the emotional brain. In that moment you don’t care about yourself or your boundaries.

When you are hurting or suffering in such a situation you may find yourselves sleeping with some random person. You end up regretting it in the morning. The act of sleeping with a stranger is driven by the emotional brain rather than the rational brain. The  self -love boundary went right out the window. Your subconscious mind wants to either punish you by doing something out of character or soothe you by finding comfort with someone else in that moment of distress.

Any attempts to repair the relationship with the person who dumped you are likely to end up in an argument. Accusations will  fly about who did what to whom and who was to blame. Then there is the person you slept with to deal with. You crossed your own boundary of never having a one night stand. Further, they may now have an expectation that because you slept with them they have a chance to build a relationship with you. This was not your intention at all!!

When expectations and boundaries are ignored, crossed or pushed it’s easy to see how arguing feels like a way to get heard. It is however, exhausting and destructive ultimately.

If you are constantly arguing with your partner and would like to explore how therapy could help you to understand each other better please   Contact  me today.