Often couples find themselves locked in a fruitless conversation, having the same argument time and time again, with no resolution in sight. The bad news is that this can lead both parties to feel hopeless, helpless, and misunderstood. It can create distance between you.

Stop having the same argument time and time again

The good news is that when we learn to communicate about what is truly important, going beneath the surface details to find our “pain point” and speak from there, these issues can actually help us grow closer.

It’s not about the “facts of the case”

Often we think we know why we are upset. Sadly, we are wrong. “It’s because he leaves his socks on the floor,” “it’s because she doesn’t rinse the plates before filling the dishwasher.” On and on it goes.

There are several problems with this approach, but the most important part is that we are having the wrong conversation. When we engage in the surface details of the argument, we are gravely missing the point. It’s not the “facts of the case” that are really at issue.

It’s the feelings.

Imagine it were your neighbor telling you about the socks on the floor or the dishes un-rinsed in the dishwasher. Would that make you so upset?

But, you say, these are my dishes and my floor; it creates a problem for me.

You have a point. But then again, think of all the sacrifices you have cheerfully made, the diapers you’ve changed, the cat boxes you’ve scooped, the dog poop you’ve bagged without question… socks and dishes aren’t the very worst thing you’ve dealt with. So why is this issue a problem?

The art of going deeper

Beneath every uncomfortable argument, behind almost every angry feeling, is something more vulnerable. This is the feeling to identify, and the one to lead with. But often it can be difficult to figure out what is going on under the surface.

When you find yourself getting angry at your partner, take a moment to pause and reflect. Ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Why is this important to me?
  2. What feeling am I feeling?
  3. When have I felt this before? (Hint: it’s almost always a life lesson, something we’ve been dealing with for a long time, that gets us riled up.)

Then lead with your feelings. It’s much easier to be open to a request that is spoken with kindness rather than accusation, and that hinges on our vulnerability rather than a criticism of them. It goes something like

“Hey, I know you’re tired at the end of the day and I appreciate how hard you work. But when I see your dirty socks on the floor, I just get caught up in this negative thinking about how I was always the one who had to help my mom with the chores… and it brings up those old feelings of being unappreciated. It would mean so much to me if you would please make an effort to put the socks in the hamper. Would you do that for me? Thank you.”

Contrast that with the (eye roll, big sigh; angrily pick up socks and slam into hamper). “Why don’t you ever put your socks in the hamper!?!”

There ya go. So ― go deeper. Once you know why you are upset, and you know that it is your own story grounded in your own history and vulnerability, you will be more likely to speak softly. And you will be more likely to get the response you want.