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Arguments Between Couples- Why So Convoluted?

Dear Ronit:

I am in a new relationship and we recently had our first “tiff”.

Though I know we will not always agree, I was amazed by how convoluted and confusing the argument became. It seemed as if we were caught up in “you said” vs. “ I said” and each of us wanting to be heard and be right. After a while it got to a point that I had no idea what the original disagreement was about! It took us a day to work it out. Ultimately my girlfriend accepted responsibility, so we made up.

This dysfunctional process seemed rather familiar, I am even sure I have lost a good friendship over this type of situation.

What happens here and how can we stay focused on the real issue?


Dear R,

This is a very insightful question, one that if more people asked could revolutionize the nature of communication.

You are absolutely right when you observe that your arguments devolve into "right and wrong" or "feelings of not being heard," which ultimately have very little to do with the actual issue that is being fought over. The underlying issues driving most arguments, particularly between couples or parents and children, are really "Do you hear me? Do you care about what I think? Do you understand me?" Behind these underlying questions is the fear of not being cared for, fear of abandonment and rejection.

People will rarely acknowledge what is truly upsetting them. There are two major reasons why people don't openly address the real issues:

1. Often they are not even aware of what is really upsetting them and are caught up in the superficial issue that is being discussed.

2. If they are aware that they are feeling hurt or threatened by their partners' behavior, they are afraid to show vulnerability or weakness at a time when they are not trusting their partners' love or commitment.

The best way to intercept this very unproductive, and usually destructive communication cycle, is to have a pact with your partner that when arguments seem to blow out of proportion to the situation, each of you will take responsibility to stop the fighting and ask "What are we really arguing about?" or "What is really upsetting you?"

Giving yourselves the time and space to truly reflect on what is upsetting you, and working on trusting each other in the middle of an argument, would help you communicate more honestly and therefore, effectively.

By the way, your comment that you finally resolved the conflict with your girlfriend after she accepted responsibility, feeds into the whole issue of "being right." If we stopped looking for who is right or wrong and started understanding each others feelings and how we can support our loved ones to feel more secure and confident, we would truly be in the service of love.

Al my best,

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