by Dr. Jay Lindsay
Most marital fights, especially repetitive ones, are not really about the issue being discussed. They are about something deeper.
Here’s an illustration:
Bill and Barb sat in my office describing the frequent fights they’d been having at home. According to them, their fights were about Bill’s failure to complete home improvement projects and Barb’s frustration about this. Three major projects were unfinished.
Barb complained, “He just doesn’t follow through!” Bill protested, “She won’t cut me any slack!”
When they would fight, Barb would shout angrily and press Bill to get the projects done. Bill would get mad too and loudly insist that he’d get to the projects, but that right now he had to put in long hours at work.
Recently, their fights had become so painful that Bill and Barb had begun to avoid each other. As a result, their closeness had been wearing away.
Insight: When couples get caught up in repetitive fights, their closeness inevitably erodes. At the deepest level, this is what most repetitive marital fights are really about.
To help Bill and Barb break out of their repetitive fights, I helped them look beneath their surface anger and focus on the loss of emotional connectedness in their marriage.
Bill and Barb thought that their fights were about home improvement projects. However, as I worked with them they came to realize that at a deeper level it was their loss of closeness that they really had been fighting about.
Tip: When you and your partner become ensnared in repetitive fights, take a break from expressing your anger about the issue and instead express your feelings about your loss of closeness.
I helped Bill and Barb do this.
Bill told Barb how lonely he had been feeling in their marriage. It seemed to him that she was not fully there for him to support him. Barb told Bill that she too had been feeling alone and unsupported.
They also expressed to each other their anxiety that they might not be emotionally available to each other in times of critical need.
Expressing their feelings about their loss of closeness helped Bill and Barb get past their anger and begin to soften toward each other.
Tip: Then give strong reassurances that you can count on each other.
I helped Bill and Barb state emphatically that they really were there for each other, that each would always be accessible and responsive to the other.
Now, feeling sure that they could count on each other, Bill and Barb were able to return to the issue they thought they were fighting about. This time they had a calm and productive conversation about the unfinished home improvement projects.
Barb backed off on her demands and Bill found time to work on the projects. They started to get their closeness back and their repetitive fighting stopped.
In conclusion, when frequent marital fights occur, the issue is rarely the issue. Most fights, especially repetitive ones, are really about emotional disconnection. What partners really want to know is: can I count on you to be there for me when I really need you?
If you want to decrease the fighting and increase the closeness in your relationship, I can help. Just contact me.
The contents of this article are the property of Dr. Jay Lindsay and further reproduction is given through written permission only.
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Master couples therapist and psychologist Dr. Jay Lindsay utilizes Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), one of the most researched and effective approaches to marital therapy. Based in Louisville, Colorado, Dr. Lindsay is a marriage counselor who is sought after by couples from all across the country. He can be reached at (720) 307-5635.