What do your arguments with your partner say about what’s really going on for you as a couple?
- Your partner hasn’t emptied the dishwasher when you asked to – You feel taken for granted.
- Your partner is on the sofa watching TV instead of putting up those shelves in the study – You feel like a nag, like you have to take responsibility for everything.
- Your partner has left the teabag in the sink again, no matter how many times you’ve said it annoys you – You feel disregarded and frustrated.
- Your partner gets dressed up to go out with friends, but wears old jeans and T-shirt when you’re together – You feel unimportant and unloved.
Sometimes arguments can be healthy when they allow each partner to let off steam and come to a compromise once they’ve had their say. That’s constructive conflict. But at other times arguments can just feel lonely. It can feel as though you’re replaying the same old argument, just set off by a different trigger and displaying itself in a different context.
So, forgetting to unload the dishwasher one day may bring up the same feelings as when your partner calls from the office to say they’re going to the pub with colleagues after work – without any advance warning. You feel taken for granted, when really you want your partner to prioritise you and your feelings.
Similarly, your partner making more effort for friends may bring up similar feelings of rejection when they spend more time chatting on social media than they do discussing their day with you. You feel unimportant, when really you want to be your partner’s best friend.
What can happen is a protest about the dishwasher can descend into a slanging match about all the other times you’ve felt ignored or overlooked. The past gets dragged up, the atmosphere gets heated, and a minor issue gets escalated until it reaches major meltdown.
You could avoid all of that if you stop for a second and think about what’s really going on here. What need isn’t being met? What issue really underpins the dishwasher, the teabag and the shelves? Are you able to express what you really want from your partner?
If you as a couple were able to communicate how you really feel and work out the real argument, the minor disagreements may stay just that: minor.
Of course, you may first need to create an atmosphere of trust where it’s possible to have clear, honest communication with each other. If you’re going to express your needs and your vulnerability, you don’t want a defensive reaction. Agree a time and space where things have cooled and you can communicate from a place that wants to understand and resolve – not point the blame.
If you’re struggling to create that space, couples counselling can help you with structure, communication and conflict resolution. Don’t let that dishwasher argument turn nasty. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] or an appointment with one of our couples experts. We’re open seven days a week.