Do you find yourself constantly getting into arguments that go nowhere? This is a complaint that I hear often in my office and the couples have no clue why the conversation is not productive. The argument can be as simple as figuring out who is folding the laundry or when to visit family. Don’t you want to stop going in circles and just figure out how to stop the arguments, well I got some tips for you.
First of all, the argument isn’t about the content (the laundry or the visit) the argument is about something that DISTRACTS from the content. The sooner you figure out what is distracting your conversation, the sooner the argument cycle will stop.
What can distract from the content? Not feeling emotionally validated, talking in an accusatory tone, and bringing back the past (resentment).
The number one reason arguments continue in a circle or never become productive is because one (or both) partners are not feeling like their experience or emotion is understood. A sign that emotional validation might be distracting from your argument is a statement like “You just don’t understand me!” or “I can’t even talk to you anymore, you don’t get it.” To provide validation, a simple tip is to use reflective listening. Reflective listening helps the other person to feel like you understand them, emotionally. For example:
Beth: I just wish that you would fold the laundry this time. It’s crazy to think that I do so much around the house and you can’t even do this.
Carl: You do a lot around the house and you’re disappointed that I do not do more?
Do you see how Carl used the word “disappointed”? That was the emotion word that Beth was looking for, and now Beth feels understood. Keep reflecting until you both feel you understand each other, then have a clearer conversation about the real (simple) problem.
If you are the one feeling like you are not emotionally validated, then express that validation is what you need. Ask your partner to simply listen to your feelings and understand them. After, let them off the hook and continue on with your conversation. Allow them to make the attempt at understanding you, that is what truly matters. Over time, their understanding will become easier and more natural.
The number two biggest reason that arguments keep going is because one (or both) partners does not like the tone of the other person. A clue that tone may be the issue is a statement such as “Why do you talk to me like that?” or “If you respected me, you wouldn’t talk to me like that.” A tip to get your conversation back on track is to correct your intention. You never intended to appear that you did not respect them or that you don’t like them. Your real intention is to convey a message to them. So, let them know that you did not intend to be mean or critical, your real message was (fill in the blank and use a calmer and collected tone).
If you are the partner that is feeling like the other person is using a negative tone: remain calm yourself and try to take the focus off the tone. Instead, focus on the message itself. The more you allow yourself to be bothered by the tone, the more the conversation is distracted.
Finally, resentment is a sneaky distraction that you may not even know exists. You may be harboring resentment from past wrongs that you felt your partner has done to you. In turn, you purposefully derail the arguments, bring back old issues, or blame them in every argument. If the first two issues (tone and validation) didn’t apply to you, then this may be the real issue. Think about what past wrongs have not been resolved and come to a point where you can have a calm conversation about the REAL problem. (When you are not in the middle of an argument). After, your future conversations will be more productive and less emotionally charged.
In order to stop the cycle of unproductive arguments, do not fall into the trap of distractions. Distractions can be: emotional validation, tone, and resentment. If emotional validation is distracting you, then use reflective listening to understand your partner. Tone can be fixed by explaining your real intention and correcting it. Resentment is resolved through talking about the actual issue – after, your future conversations are less emotionally charged. Figure out which distraction that your cycle falls into and make the changes to your arguments today!
About The Author
Chris Cummins is a couples counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He focuses on working with with couples in high conflict and couples who are experiencing substance abuse. Living in Colorado, Chris enjoys hiking traveling and anything else outdoors.