How to solve or manage recurring conflicts in a relationship

Image: 123RF / Katarzyna Białasiewicz

You have told your spouse time and again that it bothers you when they do X and how you wish they would do more of Y.

You’ve repeated yourself so many times, even you are sick of hearing it.

Relationships evoke some of our deepest longings and needs, such as wanting to feel loved, appreciated and safe.

Nobody marries another looking for a fight. We want love, we want someone who values us, we want safety and a partner we can share with.

Yet, fights are common with most couples. We’re human, after all, so frustration and the occasional miscommunication are unavoidable.

What is avoidable, however, are those recurring fights that drain our emotional energy and make us question why we are even in the relationship.

Revisiting the same old fights with the same old outcomes of hurt, drama and emotional disconnection can be a cancer in our relationship.

Do you notice that the rhythm of your day-to-day married life is shifting to feel more conflict-orientated?

Maybe they are all “small” arguments, or maybe the blowouts are huge and leave a lot of drama in their wake.

Either way, it’s the pattern of the increase and feeling like you’re repeatedly arguing over the same thing that is the issue.

This could indicate a risky trajectory into constant arguing.

More importantly, it could indicate significant problems under the surface that aren’t really being dealt with.

When choosing a long-term partner, you may also be choosing a particular set of irresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next 10, 20 or even 50 years.

Sometimes recurring relationship conflict becomes a deal breaker, leading to partners walking away from each other.

Other times partners feel stranded on the side of the road, gridlocked.

Here are some telltale signs:

  • You don’t make any progress with the problem;
  • The problem continues to come up again and again;
  • You feel frustrated talking about the issue, and feel rejected when trying to resolve it with your partner;
  • Compromising feels like a betrayal of who you are; and
  • You have a hidden dream around the issue

However, by identifying recurring arguments and showing one another respect and understanding, couples can accomplish a lot.

Here’s how to navigate some of your recurring conflicts:

Zero in on recurring argument topics

To resolve repetitive marital conflicts, identify what topics seem to rear their ugly heads most often in your relationship.

There are generally six main topics that long-term couples tend to fight about most often — lack of romance; pet peeves and bad habits; sex; lack of quality time; finances; and jealousy.

Once you have narrowed down which topics are hindering the happiness in your relationship, you can prioritise which is most important to resolve or manage.

Listen to understand, not to rebut

Because of our own need to feel understood, we often only listen just enough to refute each other’s position.

We don’t intentionally want to see things from one another’s perspectives.

It’s OK to tell your spouse, “I understand why you feel this way”, even if you disagree with it.

That statement doesn’t make anyone right or wrong. It simply shows you took time to evaluate issues from their vantage point, and in so doing, you validate their feelings on the issue.

“Proving” that your partner is “wrong” doesn’t build a relationship. It simply shows your lack of maturity.

But when you stop wanting to prove how right you are and how wrong your spouse is, you learn that both perspectives are legitimate. And you’ll begin to listen to each other more than arguing.

You’ll also use the opportunity to connect emotionally. The habit of ignoring important feelings is the undercurrent of most couple’s conflict.

In fact, trying to resolve an issue without understanding each other’s emotional space often backfires.

Problems often block closeness, but closeness can be regained, or even enhanced, by the way a couple choose to talk about their problems.

Understand your emotional triggers

One key to squashing repetitive marital conflicts is to understand your emotional triggers.

For example, a jealous wife doesn’t appreciate you spending time with other women, nor will an insecure husband appreciate you commenting on his salary being lower than yours.

Arguments are all about reaction.

You want to feel safe, accepted and appreciated in your relationship, so when your partner does something that disrupts these feelings, you react strongly.

Once you understand what sets each of you off, the easier it can be to avoid these topics or to work around them in a gentler manner.

Determine which conflict to solve, and which to manage

A solvable problem in marriage is about something situational.

The conflict is simply about that topic, and there may not be any deep-seated meaning or need behind each partner’s position.

If your spouse’s responsibilities in the household, for example, are not being met due to the increase in work responsibilities, then this is a solvable problem.

With healthy communication, you can find a mutually agreed to solution.

On the other hand, some conflicts are for you to manage rather than to seek to solve.

Couples are often gridlocked in their perpetual problems, and often these recurring problems are around personality differences or core fundamental needs.

When couples have learnt to accept one another with regard to these differences, even though minor arguments may arise occasionally, is when they are able to manage these issues.

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