I wrote a post a couple weeks ago about cyclical arguments in relationships and have gotten so many great responses I wanted to talk about it a little more. I know these repetitive conflicts in relationships are some of the most frustrating.
Maybe this has happened to you:
You can feel like you've said the same thing a hundred times and you're just not feeling heard. Meanwhile, your partner looks exasperated and seems to be bringing up the same points, issues, or topics you've heard before.
No matter what you try in conversation it feels like you end without resolution.
That's what a cyclical conflict feels like. Super stuck. Often ugly. And because they're rarely resolved they often lead to piles of resentment and distance.
When I last mentioned Dr Susan Johnson I outlined her key questions to help couples get underneath the surface of these stuck conversations. Today I want to outline three of the kinds of conflicts most couples experience to help you identify when your own cyclical conflicts come up.
1. Find the Bad Guy
So many great couples get stuck in a blame game that doesn't lead anywhere but stagnant hurt feelings. When this shows up I hear couples use language of right or wrong, always and never, and good or bad when talking about each other's behaviors. When we define our partner as somehow defective (uncaring, unwilling, etc) everyone loses.
If you notice yourself stuck in blame, try moving to personal accountability. However small each of us plays a role in every conflict we enter. Notice if there is anything you could do different, or you might need to be held accountable for. Take the high road and acknowledge your own behavior if you're stuck focusing on the behavior of another.
2. Protest Polka
A lot of couples counselors and relationship researchers have written about an attack-withdraw dance in couples (that often leads to divorce). It's like two same-sided magnets that chase each other across a table. The more one chases, the more the other withdraws.
In these cases the partner demanding attention is really after connection, and the withdrawing partner is avoiding what seems like criticism. Over time couples in this kind of conflict can feel hopeless and build even greater distance from each other.
The first step to changing this pattern is noticing you are in it. Most folks (especially the distancing partner) have a hard time noticing it because it can be incredibly subtle. Start by writing out your pattern using the outline below.
The more I ___ the more you __ and then the more I ___,
3. Freeze and Flee
This kind of conflict can seem the most difficult of all. It might look like a standstill or a standoff without a lot of connection or communication between partners. It's usually a space where both of you feel hurt and hopeless.
If you find yourself in a freeze and flee pattern it's a good time to call a professional to support you and your partner in reconnecting. It might feel like you've tried everything you can on your own, and having a consultant halp you out with their expertise is a great step to trysomething different with support. If you'd like to talk with me about helping you break out of the freeze set up a consultation here.
None of these conflicts are un-resolvable, but each pattern takes care and awareness to change. I hope this article can help you begin the change you'd like to see in your own relationship.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.
She can help you:
- rediscover passion in long-term relationships
- repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
- open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
- resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
- break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship