a couple working to get better at handling arguments in their relationship

Curious about how to handle arguments in a relationship? Do you find the same argument coming up again and again between you and a loved one? Maybe the argument is the same old horse each time, or maybe the disagreement looks different but the patterns, feelings, and lack of resolution keep you feeling like you’ve seen this show before. No matter how it presents itself, if you’re noticing that your disagreements don’t seem to resolve, it might be time to get curious. Is the argument about the thing we are arguing about? Or is it about something deeper?

An Invitation to Get Curious

This article isn’t to say that you’re not doing it right, or that your situation necessarily goes deeper than what’s on the surface. This article is simply an invitation to get curious about why a particular argument, or pattern of arguing, between you and your loved one doesn’t seem to get resolved. 

What’s the Problem?

When our problem solving isn’t solving our problems, we often look to our skills (or lack of) as a culprit. Maybe we focus on getting better at communication, or sharpening our empathy, or maybe we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that our partner just doesn’t have effective skills for disagreement. All of these are valid and important pieces to successful disagreement in relationships, to be sure. But what if we’ve exhausted our efforts and honed these skills, and the problem is still rearing its ugly head? Well, that’s your invitation to get curious.

Curious about what, you ask? Well, if the issue isn’t with our problem-solving skills, we are left with the problem. What if we get curious about the problem itself? We probably know the “surface problem” very well – after all, we’ve had tons of practice looking at it each time it comes up, right? What if we get curious, then, about whether the “surface” problem – that is, the thing we argue about – is really even the problem? 

Food for Thought

Our capacity for disagreement in relationships begins in early childhood. Through interaction with our caregivers, we learn what it means to disagree with another human. Maybe we learned that disagreement is part and parcel for healthy relationships. Maybe we learned that disagreements are safe, as long as we aren’t too bold, or too aggressive, or we’re careful not to address the problem head on. Or, maybe we learned that disagreements are not safe and we are to concede, retreat, or overpower when faced with disagreement. This blueprint is both challenged and reinforced as we grow up and our relationships become more complex. 

Questions to Consider

If you’re curious whether there’s something deeper to the arguments you’ve had with your partner, some introspective reflection may be beneficial. Here are some questions to get you started:

How are you showing up during disagreements? Are you in problem-solving mode, understanding mode, retreat mode, or overpowering mode?

How does a disagreement make you feel? Do you find you have a fight, flight, or freeze response?

Are you honest about the problem? Sometimes we argue about surface-level stuff because the actual problem is too painful to address. 

Do you feel safe to show up authentically during disagreements? Are you able to be honest about your experience of the situation, or do you minimize your feelings to avoid conflict?

The questions you can ask yourself are endless, and it’s not so much the specific questions as it is the curiosity. When we get curious about a repeating pattern, we open the door for new perspectives and new approaches to problem-solving. Give it a try – you just might finally solve that problem that keeps coming up.

Need some help learning how to handle arguments in a relationship? You might be a fit for relationship coaching. Learn more!