5 Steps to Save Your Marriage from That Recurring Argument

Disagreement doesn’t have to end in disillusionment.
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Disagreement doesn’t have to end in disillusionment.

Did you know that 69 percent of all marriage conflicts are never resolved? That means that roughly three out of every five arguments you have with your significant other won't be fully settled. But while it’s true that you may disagree about the right way to load a dishwasher for the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.

The reality is that every couple argues and will argue. However, Dr. John Gottman, relationship researcher and psychologist, says that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your relationship. In fact, to avoid bringing up issues for fear of starting an argument isn’t healthy for you or the relationship. What’s more important, he says, is being willing to discuss those issues and reach a compromise that you can both agree upon.

Gottman says that, based on his research, these perpetual arguments can lead to what he calls gridlock. Signs of gridlock include making no headway on the conflict even though it is discussed frequently, being unwilling to move towards compromise, feeling frustrated and hurt, and feeling emotionally disengaged. The solution, he says, is to understand each other’s perspectives and communicate with one another in a way that will help you find a compromise. These gridlocked issues will always be present in your relationship but they aren’t a sign that your relationship is unhealthy. Every couple has them. His point is that, if it is unsolvable, your time is better spent not on eradicating the problem but reaching a compromise.

So what matters more is how you talk about these issues with your partner and not necessarily how often you fight or even what you fight about. Instead of trying to avoid an argument at all costs, try to communicate your disagreements effectively and in a way that will help you both reach some kind of compromise. You might not be able to change each other’s minds but you can find common ground. Keep the following in mind the next time an all too familiar disagreement comes up.

01. Identify your recurring arguments.

Before you can change the way you and your significant other disagree, you have to identify the topics you typically argue about and the typical ways you tend to argue about them. Chances are, these types of disagreements end without a resolution and involve hurt feelings and resentment. Couples tend to follow the same pattern over and over again when they argue, psychologist Guy Winch says. He says that, after witnessing a couple argue in his office, he can predict how any other argument of theirs will go. The top issues couples fight about are work stress, in-laws, money, intimacy, housework, and a new baby. What are you top three to five issues? Try listing them out; you might be surprised by what you and your significant other discover.

02. Stay focused.

When discussing these gridlock topics, it is important to stay focused on the topic at hand and not lump it together with other issues. While it might be tempting to fuel the argument with past hurts, frustrations, and resentments, that will only serve to distance you from one another instead of working together as a team. Try to stay on topic as much as you can to increase the likelihood that you will come to a compromise more quickly.

03. Work as a team.

If you both make it a point to work on disagreeing more productively, you’ll feel a sense of ownership—which increases the likelihood of reaching a successful compromise. Blaming each other for perpetuating the argument will only serve to increase resentment. Instead, acknowledge the role that you each play and agree to gently signal to one another when someone is going down the wrong path. It can be humming a few bars of a song or doing something silly, like breaking into dance, to help break the tension.

04. Use empathy.

If you are arguing about the same thing over and over again with the same result, Winch suggests that you and your partner are not feeling understood by each other. The solution? Empathy. Using empathy when you disagree helps each partner feel understood even if you don’t agree with one another. While this can be hard to do when you’re aggravated, it will help your disagreement move towards compromise instead of spiraling out of control.

Gottman recommends trying to listen for the dream behind your partner’s viewpoint. For example, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he tells the story of a couple, Ed and Luanne, who constantly argued about whether Luanne should sell her horse. Luanne didn’t want to but Ed thought the horse was too expensive to keep. Gottman goes on to explain that, once Luanne and Ed were able to identify their own dreams, they were able to reach a compromise. Luanne dreamed of competing with her horse while Ed dreamed of being a priority in Luanne’s life and he currently felt like the horse occupied most of her attention. Identifying their dreams allowed them to discuss why they each felt the way they did about Luanne’s horse. Gottman emphasizes that focusing on understanding each other first is very important before you try to reach a compromise.

05. Seek a solution.

Finding a solution that you are both comfortable with is your goal, says Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages. Seek to find a solution that respects both you and your significant other’s differences. He recommends brainstorming with each other until you find a solution you are both satisfied with and warns against agreeing to a solution just to make the argument go away.

Gottman recommends finding common ground with one another. This involves identifying the aspects of the issue that you will not budge on and the ones you are willing to compromise on. For example, perhaps seeing your family on Christmas is non-negotiable but you are willing to talk about how long you will visit with your family before going to your in-laws. Once you’ve identified what you are willing to negotiate, discuss what a workable compromise can be.

Discussing your recurring issues with your significant other will not only help your arguments end with a compromise, but you might even find that you grow closer as a couple. Trying to find a compromise gives you a goal to work toward together, while hurling insults and blaming one another is more likely to drive a wedge between you. So the next time you and your significant other find yourself in familiar dangerous territory, put these tips into practice and see what happens. 

Photo Credit: The Kitcheners