Stop Repeating Arguments

All conflict is not the same. Some disputes truly cannot be resolved. You are not a failure because resolution escapes your partnership. 

John Gottman’s research indicates that nearly 70% of conflict in a romantic relationship is perpetual, meaning we cannot find peaceful resolutions. You know- those conflicts in your life that keep coming up repeatedly. And you feel like you want to scream- Why can’t we just put this to rest already? That’s the conflict we are talking about.  

Solvable conflicts for one couple can be perpetual for another and vice versa. Perpetual conflict can be any topic. Common issues in relationships revolve around sex, parenting, chores, free time, money, religion, politics, and so on.

Solvable conflicts can be complex and also tend to be situational. Typically, it’s solvable when the root is a situation and not a personality trait or value. Conflicts with deeper roots, like those based on individual personality, values, or standards, are often repeated or perpetual and are most conflicts.

People don’t change their values easily. Staying in perpetual conflict is exhausting, so we want to clean it up quickly. When asking someone to change something innate to their core being, we must remain open-minded. One way a romantic partnership becomes healthy is by allowing the other person to be genuinely who they are and encouraging growth. In no way am I saying you should tolerate abuse or discount your needs. Express them for understanding, point out this is rooted deeply, and agree to disagree. Then, come to terms with how to proceed. Acceptance of the conflict by both parties is a resolution.

So, how do you manage perpetual conflict rather than resolve it?

  1. Understand that it’s perpetual if you’ve had the same disagreement more than twice. Name it.
  2. Understand that there is a deep psychological trait or value at the root of this conflict. It is not necessarily your partner being unreasonable. You may need to search for the core value and associated triggers. 
  3. Understand that revisiting this conflict is a good path. As time passes, situations change, and you must become open-minded enough to change positions.
  4. Know your attachment style, as it will help you understand how you feel and manage or seek to resolve conflicts.
  5. Identify the emotions around the issue, then keep them in perspective. Conflict stirs emotion. Learn how you react to disagreement/conflict and how your partner is affected. Talk about that.
  6. Use the stick method for talking about the issue. Only the person with the stick can speak. No interruptions. Seek to hear and understand. Listen to the message, and stay focused on intent rather than literal words.
  7. Understand the other person’s needs or values. Yep, it’s about more than what you want. Apathy gets you nowhere.
  8. Seek a negotiated middle ground. If you can agree to a temporary course of action that benefits the relationship or family, it will have a more significant impact.
  9. Could you give it a time frame? Commonly, time measures come in months or years. However, time frames can also be periods; for example, when the kids are in school, we do X. If the kids are not, then we do Y. When the kids graduate, we talk about a whole new deal.
  10. Create rituals to give weight to both partner’s needs. Start as early as you can in the relationship. If one person needs to sacrifice, find a new way to fulfill their desire.

Example

Gottman gives the example of a couple at odds with Sunday activities. Both people work full-time and only have a two-day weekend. She wants to devote time to self-care, like golfing or other activities. Sunday was for a personal time when she was growing up. Her family outsourced a lot of cleaning and prepping for the week. He wants to spend the morning cleaning and preparing for the upcoming week and the afternoon with his family. He grew up doing chores, preparing for the week ahead, and having a family dinner on Sundays. These are values. The couple grew up differently from one another, and their values are different. This difference could be a non-issue for this couple. They may determine that they like spending time apart this way, and it works. However, it is equally possible that one person could become resentful because much of the chore load is on them. One person could be bitter because their partner would prefer to clean toilets than spend a relaxing day with them. Perpetual conflict looks like this. One person will not be happy on Sunday forever if you don’t talk it all through. 

Compatible couples have ways to resolve or manage conflicts, including their emotions and negotiating outcomes. Incompatible people haven’t built-in ways to talk openly about something bothering them or bring up something they need. Lacking conflict resolution and management traits seems like ignoring the issues as they come up or constantly arguing over the same problem. Eventually, it could make the couple feel like they are incompatible. If too much time passes without addressing the issue or too many problems arise, your relationship might end in heartbreak.

So, stop being frustrated that you can’t resolve your conflicts. Learn to identify what is not resolvable in the relationship and manage it. You’ll upgrade your partnership with this skill.