Some days it feels like we argue constantly… even over things that really aren’t that important.
Getting on each others last nerve occasionally these days?
When people are together twenty-four hours a day, day after day, and week after week, how could they possibly not argue? Anger and resentment over the circumstance of “sheltering in place” can sometimes get projected onto a situation or behavior that might seem trivial to others. The result is often criticism and blame. Habits and behaviors that we can tolerate occasionally become seemingly intolerable and feel relentlessly abrasive when repeated throughout the day. When these arguments are similar to past conflicts the took place frequently before sequester, or when they begin to become constantly repetitious today, there is probably more going on than a drawer being left open or singing the wrong lyrics to a song.
Couples often maintain to me that they argue over things that really don’t matter. Even in these current trying circumstances, couples really don’t argue over unimportant issues. Socks on the floor in the bedroom? What brand of cereal you ordered from Instacart? How you loaded the dishwasher? Believe it or not, in addition to whatever mild frustration these kinds of things may cause, there is nearly always another more significant issue beneath the surface of the argument. Generally, we fail to identify the primary reasons for those responses that might otherwise seem unwarranted.
These types of conflicts usually stem from some extremely significant underlying feeling —usually a sense of lack or loss. The feeling of not have Respect, Control, Equity, or Security are but a few. Who has the power to make decisions in this relationship? Is the work load equal between both partners? Do you feel listened to? Do you feel loved, cared about, and important in this relationship? Can you trust your your partner to meet your needs? Do you feel understood in this relationship?
When these foundational issues are recognized perspectives can change.
What may seem inconsequential to one partner comes to be seen as having a deeper meaning to the other. (Very important: even if you are certain what is the basis of your partners upset, never say “You know what you are really angry about right now?” Your partner will not thank you for the insight, I promise you.) Keep your awareness to yourself and use it to express empathy, forgiveness, and often to trigger an apology (when appropriate and sincere).
When either of you recognizes what other issues may have prompted an angry response, you can respond in a way that diffuses the conflict without feeling defensive or escalating the argument. Your new insight provides a wonderful opportunity be tolerant and understanding, and often to meet your partners real need. That approach will absolutely increase successful resolution and bring peace.… for awhile.
If you don’t get it exactly right the first time—don’t worry. There will be lots more opportunities to practice in the coming days and weeks. I promise.