Most couples have “that” fight, over and over. It’s the one thing that never gets resolved. The one thing that doesn’t change. One, or both of you, think it should. But nothing changes. Are you repeating the same fight?
Know this for sure: the fight is not about what you think it is about!
And, not only is there the repetitive fight syndrome, but it usually finally boils down to one word that describes what one partner feels s/he is not getting.
Recurring quarrels about apparently trivial issues are often camouflage for deeper issues that seem too scary to bring up, or too big to deal with. Fighting about whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher, for example, can be more about an underlying power struggle than about dishes, clean kitchens, or helping around the house.
My clients, I’ll call them Jason and Kimberly, have the same fight, over and over. It’s about his mother, and how she constantly interferes in everything. It’s not about whether or not she does it. It’s that they fight over what each of them sees as “interference.”
Jason defends his mother by saying it’s because his mother cares, and wants the best for them. Kimberley feels her mother-in-law is constantly making unwanted comments about her, the way she keeps the house, how they spend their money, and what to do differently with the kids. In her opinion, her mother-in-law oversteps what is appropriate, and wants to rule their home. Jason admits that his mother may be too present in their lives, but feels sad that, with her husband gone, his mother is lonely. He tells Kim that she should be more understanding. So, the fight goes on…and round and round.
Eventually, though, the one word that this repetitive fight always comes down to, the word that always gets spit out when tempers flare about this issue: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Kimberley thinks Jason’s mother has no respect for her, for Jason, or for their rights to manage their family in their own way. Jason thinks Kimberley should have more respect for his mother for all she has been through, and respect her rights as a grandmother. Kimberley thinks Jason should stand up to his mother and clearly believes that doing so would show that Jason respects his wife. Jason thinks Kimberley should show respect to his mother because it is the right and appropriate thing to do. He thinks Kimberley is selfish and just wants things her way. And, Kimberley feels the same about Jason.
So, there’s the word: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
My advice to this couple has been first to understand what THE fight is about. Throwing around a phrase like “lack of respect” is a simple thing to do. It’s a label that sounds righteous, and, it may be accurate. After all, how could you argue with the idea that there should be respect? But, is it really that there is a lack of respect, or is that just the ultimate battle cry? The one who cries “Respect!” has upped the ante and dealt the ultimate blow. The other should succumb, bow down in defeat.
And, then, the game starts again. Kimberley and Jason are not actually fighting about respect. They are fighting for significance. They both want to matter more, and feel more secure as a couple facing the world–and the mother-in-law–as a unified front. They haven’t worked that out yet, so, they perpetuate the fight.
Kimberley and Jason had not yet figured out a few things:
- What their values–individually and as a family–are, what they mean, and what they look like when demonstrated
- How to talk with each other about difficult things without fighting and just wanting to win and/or be right
- How to resolve issues together, finding a middle road that both can agree to walk
- What to do when they are hurting and need the unconditional love, support and acceptance from their partner
That’s why relationship help is so valuable. People who really care about their relationships get help when fights get repetitive, and when things get rocky. They get that relationship help because they want to have the comfort, safety, trust–and yes, respect–that being in a healthy, mutually-supportive relationship provides.
Some people think that they just should be able to figure things out by themselves. Those are the people who keep having the same fight over and over into eternity. Not a pretty prospect. Yet, they cannot see the whole picture because they are in it.
If you are repeating the same fight over and over, it’s time to recognize the underlying issues, and manage them collaboratively. You need to break the pattern and get new insights and skills.
You know that, when THAT fight starts, it’s going nowhere good. You know the pattern, and you know the ending. Don’t be living that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.
If you are repeating the same fight endlessly, it’s time to get some relationship help, to create a new pattern, and get results that make you feel heard, seen AND respected. The good news is that each time to show yourselves that you can create new patterns, you feel better about yourself and each other. That is progress!
Disclaimer: All advice, insights and suggestions made here are not to be construed as psychological or legal advice. Any actions you undertake as a result of reading any article, book, video, ebook or blog post from Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, are entirely your own. Having worked with individuals and couples for more than twenty-five years, she offers her insights and opinions for your consideration only.