Arguing—or at least discussing things with varying levels of emotion—is a nearly unavoidable part of being in a long-term relationship. Not only that, but whether or not you realize it, many of the disagreements (or fights, quarrels or whatever you want to call them) tend to be over the same root issues in your relationship.
Even if the fight starts out being about something else completely, there’s a good chance you’ll somehow end up back having the same argument you’ve had with your partner countless times before.
It can get to the point where you feel as though you’re trapped in a cycle of anger, disappointment and frustration towards your partner. But, according to Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist and the author of Perfectly Hidden Depression, there are ways to stop this pattern. Here are some tips from her, from a recent interview she did with Fatherly.
Don’t let resentment build up
A lot of people will go out of their way to avoid any type of conflict—especially with their partner. So instead of letting their partner know when they’re upset or irritated by something, they’ll just hold it in and not say a word. But Rutherford says that’s the wrong approach, and the resentment accumulates over time:
No, this doesn’t mean to start picking fights—although we are all guilty of that from time to time, too—it means saying ‘Hey, just to let you know,’ X annoyed me because of Y so I’d appreciate it if you’d Z.” Yes, we all need to be of when and where to bring up issues, but it’s better to bring up something small than to hold everything down and explode later.
Don’t label your partner as a way to automatically blame them
As humans, we love to organize things into categories and use that information to explain certain situations, rather than having to fully think them through. This can happen in relationships too, Rutherford says, when we declare that our partner has a certain quality that puts them at fault for many of your fights. “How often do we label each other?” she questions. “We say, ‘You’re a spendthrift or you’re greedy, or, you’re out of control.’ Nobody wants to be labeled.”
Rather than taking this approach, Rutherford suggests asking yourself why this particular argument makes you so angry, so often:
For instance, try saying ‘I get scared when you spend money, because I grew up in a family where we didn’t do that.” Speaking plainly about yourself offers a deeper understanding of where you’re coming from and allows your partner to share, too. Ultimately, you’re That’s not labeling someone that’s saying, “This is the impact your actions are having on me.’”
Bring up contentious topics when you’re not already angry
If most of the fights you have with your partner either are directly or indirectly related to one particular topic (like money, parenting, the house, etc), Rutherford recommends discussing that issue when you’re not angry with each other, rather than in the heat of battle. “Risk being vulnerable and express what you’re truly feeling,” she tells Fatherly. “Don’t be afraid to ask for your partner’s help.”