fighting in relationships

Stop Having the Same Argument Over and Over and Over and...

Stop Arguing With Your Partner

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.


Sex Counselor Portland Relationship Therapist

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

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

Four Questions to Simplify Relationship Arguments

simplify arguments in relationships

Most of the couples I work with experience cyclical fighting- the kind of arguments you have over and over and over often even saying the same things but never feeling heard or resolved.  

It's one of the most maddening parts of being in a relationship.  

I created these Fight Better in Relationships tools to help create a foundation for better communication, but these cyclical stuck arguments require another step.  

According to Dr Susan Johnson (one of the leading experts in relationships), most conflicts stay at the surface and never get to the real issues at hand.  When this happens we keep fighting on the surface without ever really getting at what we really need to talk about.

In her book, Hold Me Tight (which I highly recommend) she lays out four questions that usually lie under our conflicts.  Take a look at these when you fight with your partner to see if there's something deeper you're trying to get at.  

Four Questions to Break Out of Cyclical Arguments

1) Are you there for me?

If you notice your argument circling around someone not showing up, not being present, or not demonstrating care (even if that's not how they see it) there's a real possibility one of you is asking this question- indirectly.  

Instead of continuing the argument take time to look at ways you show up for one another and ask how you could show up even more clearly for one another.

2) Do my feelings matter to you?

There are two parts to this question.  First, do you acknowledge my feelings exist- even when you disagree or have a different set of emotions- without negating them?  Can you validate my emotions no matter how different they are from yours?

And part two, does being aware of my feelings have an impact (does it matter) to you?  Does it matter to you when your partner experiences pain or joy?  Can you acknowledge what they're experiencing, again, even if you aren't experiencing the same thing?  

3) Will you respond when I need you?

Reliability builds trust in relationships.  Notice if there are ways you can improve follow through in your relationship and start walking your talk with even more care to start building trust between you.

4) Are you curious about me?  

I added this to the list, Dr Johnson doesn't mention it, but many of the couples I work with are experiencing desire fatigue.  They've been together a long time and miss the fascination, passion, and desire of their first meeting.  

Usually this early desire can be boiled down to curiosity.  Back when we met we were getting to know each other and were endlessly curious about our new crush.  Over time we stop being curious and start running on assumptions instead of asking.  

Start asking questions to spark curiosity between you again.  Give answers with more than one sentence to keep conversation rolling.  This question just means it's time to get re-acquainted.  

If ou want help breaking free of these kinds of stuck repetitive arguments, give me a call for a consultation.  I'm happy to talk.


poly therapist in portland

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

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).