You used to laugh all the time. Now it seems like all you ever do is fight. What’s happening to your relationship? Fights have a nasty habit of becoming habituated. The brain lays down neural pathways, and once the way is paved, it becomes well travelled. We form grey-matter grooves, like ruts in a muddy road, and we get stuck. We forget what we’re really fighting about.
But here’s the thing: Brains are capable of re-shaping. We can form new, better, pathways. The first step is figuring out what we’re fighting about, what we're trying to win and at what cost? Before you and your sparring partner can settle the score, you need to know the answers to those questions. (And the answers are rarely what they seem.)Photo: iStockphoto
What are you aiming to accomplish with the fight? What’s the end game? Do you seek to gain superiority over your partner (“I’m right and you’re wrong”), or do you seek solutions to problems? In short, do you want war or peace?
My friend Sonia has a great expression: “Don’t immediately go to ‘make wrong.'” It’s an expression she uses with the kids in her therapy practice, but it serves equally well with couples. When we focus exclusively on making our partners wrong, we eliminate the possibility of understanding. An approach that leads with accusations ends with heavy casualties.
Read more: 5 good ways to argue>Photo: iStockphoto
If you want to stop the insanity, start with inquiry. Walk softly, and be a sleuth. What would make him want to do that? How did we end up here? When did this cycle start?
When you drop your weapons and open your mind, you’ll be surprised what you find. The fight is rarely what it seems. Sure, he may get snarky about sex (or lack of), but the real issue is likely his perception that you don’t find him desirable. She may harp at you about how you handle the kids, but perhaps what’s really at stake is hurt pride around parenting. Here’s the big idea: In order to dig down to deep issues, you have to put down your dukes. Resist first impulses; things are rarely as they seem.
Read more: Are you having enough sex?>Photo: iStockphoto
Now, I know détente isn’t easy. In the heat of the moment, it’s tough to resist an invitation to battle. So, here’s what you do: Consider what’s at stake. It’s more than the marriage. If one of you is the winner, the other is a loser. Feeling like a loser — like you’re inferior or inadequate — is a serious blow to self-esteem. And when self-worth is compromised, so too is mental health.
The repercussions are potentially disastrous — depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and eating disorders are all very real possibilities. And no one wishes that on their partner or on their conscience.
Read more: In defense of the boring marriage>Photo: iStockphoto
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