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Couples Conflict: Getting to the bottom of what you're really fighting about

couple in conflict

Most of us consider arguing a negative aspect of our relationship. That’s because arguing makes us feel bad and sometimes it can be downright painful. That feeling may stay with you for hours if not days afterward. It can be difficult to concentrate at work, keep you awake at night, or, you get more irritable with the kids..

Conflict in any meaningful relationship is inevitable

Because you are two different people, you are going to have different views and opinions that can create conflict. Sometimes we can predict when a conversation will be difficult and have an opportunity to prepare for it. But when we are caught off guard, things can escalate quickly. Something as simple as making a comment about the way your partner loaded the dishwasher can go south. Afterward, you may ask yourself “Why does how we load the dishwasher have to be such a big deal?” It’s true, in the big scheme of things loading the dishwasher isn’t that big of a deal. But what started out as a small complaint became a big argument.

Why does arguing feel so bad?

Often there are other forces at work during a conflict that you are not consciously aware of. You see, the two of you brought all of your old wounds and unmet needs from childhood and past relationships with you when you enter into this relationship. You may feel disrespected by your partner like you did from a past relationship. Or, you feel criticized. Nothing you do is good enough just like when you were a child. You say to yourself, “this is not how I am supposed to feel in my marriage. I’m supposed to be happy.”

The truth is, nature doesn’t focus on your being happy. Nature’s focus in on your being whole and healthy. And you can’t be whole if you have unresolved hurts still inside you. The hurts remain dormant until a current frustration arises and something feels familiar about it. Nature then uses that frustration as an opportunity to try to heal an old wound or get an old need met.

What does an argument today have to do with my past?

In Imago Relationship Therapy, we believe that feelings you experienced in your childhood relationships are bound to come up in your adult relationships. By understanding how these negative experiences and feelings from childhood carry over into your relationship now, the two of you can get to the core of frustrations and find solutions that can create meaningful change.

“Until you learn how to support each other in healing old wounds and effectively meet each other’s needs, the same frustrating relationship patterns will continue.”

How can arguing be good for our relationship?

Experts agree that a couple’s arguments can be quite beneficial for romantic relationships and research supports this. One survey done by The Guardian of nearly 1,000 adults found that Couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the rug. According to Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., L.M.F.T, “When people don't know how to lean into hard conversations constructively, negativity in a relationship increases.”

No matter what the frustrations are in your relationship or what hurtful events have happened, the most important tool to work through them is an effective way to communicate. One that helps you both fully understand what is really happening in the argument on a deeper level. The Imago dialogue process is a powerful tool that will help the two of you contain reactivity, stop shaming and blaming, and create a sense of safety to explore issues together in a more productive way.


Couples Counseling Boulder by Darleen Gegich MA LPC


How to make sense of your arguments

Using the Imago dialogue process, you will be able to deepen the conversation around your frustrations to explore what old wounds or unmet needs are being triggers. When you bring these missing pieces into the conversation, your frustrations will begin to make more sense.

It will make sense when you ask your partner to load the dishwasher in a more orderly way and they get defensive. If he carries a wound of being criticized by his mother, it’s going to get triggered in this moment. Even if you weren’t trying to be critical. It only has to be slightly similar to trigger old wounds.

For you, if life at home was challenging and chaotic growing up, having order in your environment now may be a way for you feel less anxious. So, when your partner gets defensive and tells you why it doesn’t matter how he loads the dishwasher, you get triggered. Notice how different each person’s experience can be in this situation.

Once you both are aware of these old wounds and how they are causing problems, you can begin to explore better ways to approach issues that support each other to heal, and find solutions to conflict that honor both of you.

I am here to help

If the two of you are ready to take your relationship to a deeper level of connection and commitment, Imago Relationship Therapy can help. I am a certified Imago Relationship Therapist with 20 years of experience working with couples. Feel free to contact me today to schedule a 20-minute phone consultation to talk about how couples counseling can help.

Contact Darleen


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