The Argument That Never Ends

Are you having a never-ending argument?

Posted Aug 08, 2018

If you’ve been drawn to the title of this article you’ve probably had one of these fights that just goes on and on. Even after the argument seems to stop, the next time you argue, you’ll find that this theme is still central to that argument and every other argument. It’s an issue. 

Look back over the history of your relationship and see if you can find a central theme to many, if not most, of your arguments. Look long and hard. Look deep. 

If you find that there’s a theme, or a few themes, what you’ve usually discovered is some unresolved issue from your upbringing, which is not only triggered by something your partner is doing or saying, but which also triggers some old unresolved issue from his or her upbringing. 

So, let’s say that when you were growing up you were basically invisible to your parents. They just emotionally neglected you. Even when you spoke up assertively, you still were not ever heard. And one day your partner, with whom you’ve been relatively happy to this point, does something dismissive. She just made you invisible—at least that’s how it seems to your reactivity. So, you get louder and more aggressive, because now you are steaming mad. And she reacts with hostility to your loudness, your aggressiveness, because she grew up in a home in which her parents were abusive with their noises and their aggressive patterns of behavior. 

Now you are trying to get her to hear you, and she is trying to get you to be quiet. And the beat goes on, and on, and on, and on. Through many arguments over many years, this same theme is played out again and again. Then you finally arrive at therapy, and into that endeavor, you are taught how to actively listen to each other. Finally, finally, finally, you sigh in relief, finally I’m feeling heard. And she’s finally feeling that she can listen because you are not having to get louder and more aggressive to be heard. 

Not only do these kinds of fights go on over the years, but a single fight can last for days, because you both seem to be stuck in an ever-escalating round of righteous indignation that the other party could wound you so badly. But this wound was actually inflicted first when you were a child, and your partner just did something that reminded you that you’ve been carrying around this open wound for years. Yet you can’t see this at the time, all you see is that your partner has maliciously set out to hurt you. 

You see, when this wound is left gaping open for years, it is very easy to feel the pain of it. And while it is true that we don’t want, for example, to be dismissed by our partner, this does not mean that our partner is just like our parents; neither does it mean that our partner is malicious in an intent to hurt. But when that old wound gets triggered we feel and sometimes act just like we felt and acted as a child when the original wound was inflicted. 

But if we can catch ourselves responding to today as if it were yesterday, we can change old patterns and heal old wounds. Not everyone is like our parents. If it turns out to be true that we have married someone just like our abusive or neglectful parent, then it is probably time to leave.  But if, in fact, this partner is otherwise unlike the wounding parent, then perhaps we should look into our reactivity, to find that theme that keeps repeating. 

Andrea Mathews
Source: Andrea Mathews

It is possible to stop in the middle of a fight and say, “Wait a minute, I think that we are circling around that same old theme again.  Can we just stop and look at that, because I’m reacting to you like you are my mother, and maybe you are doing the same with me.” 

It is possible to practice active listening, so that we really begin to hear our partner, instead of only hearing that same old voice in which we are shamed, blamed, abused, neglected or just unloved. It is possible to stop reacting to today as if it were yesterday. 

When we do, we shorten our fights, and we come to mutually support each other in a whole new pattern of growth that leads to greater and greater intimacy