Confronting The Conflict in Your Relationship

You know that feeling where you’re having a heated discussion with your partner, it starts to turn into a full-on fight, and at some point it dawns on you that you’re not really sure what you’re actually fighting about anymore? 

You think you’re arguing about the dishes left in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher but no matter what you seem to say about it, or how your partner responds, you’re not finding relief or resolution? 

It’s like you’re regularly having a circular fight forever – a fight that doesn’t go anywhere or come to resolution.

Those “missing the real issue fights” are pretty common out there in relationship-land and I’m pointing them out because they’re part of a bigger concern. 

Although this can just seem like we’re-having-the-same-fight-over-and-over it’s actually the beginning of a dysfunctional pattern that I call The Conflict Cycle.  

What is The Conflict Cycle?

This might look something like: you saw the dishes in the sink for the thousandth time and you reacted. You’ve talked about this so many times and you’re sick of it. You’ve tried asking nicely, you’ve tried yelling, you’ve tried the silent treatment, you’ve tried being passive-aggressive, and you’re frustrated AF.

The Conflict Cycle

Having the same fight over and over without ever getting anywhere happens because we’re not addressing the real issue. When you have the same fight over and over without resolution, the problem becomes ‘gridlocked’ 

When you’re having a recurring issue things eventually turn from just annoying bickering into frustration and anger. You’re feeling reactive and it doesn’t really seem to matter what your partner says, you’re not satisfied. 

That’s because you’re no longer upset about the dishes being left in the sink instead of being put in the dishwasher. You’re upset about a deeper issue that is often related to what you make the dishes left in the sink ‘mean’.

You probably feel like you’ve talked about this before and made requests enough about this issue, that your partner not putting the dishes in the dishwasher means they “don’t care enough about you” or “don’t respect you” or “take you for granted” or “are totally selfish” or “are lazy” or “don’t take you seriously” or, or, or… and you can be reacting to more than one (or even all) of these made-up meanings at the same time.

And because of the number of times you talked and fought about this, you expect that if they….

  • Cared
  • Respected
  • Appreciated
  • Were a team player
  • Took you seriously

…that they would start putting their dishes in the G.D.dishwasher. 

When Expectations Aren’t Met, You Have a Reaction.

That’s why you end up having these “missing the issue fights”. When you try to deal with the surface problem of unmet expectations (the dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher) rather than the deeper issue of what you’re making it mean, you’ll never get to the root of it. 

Even if your partner says “sorry, I’ll never do it again”, it’s unlikely to make you feel any better. 

You need to talk about the real problem, what you’re making it mean and how that meaning is impacting you.

I promise you that no matter what, fighting about the surface issue of the dishes in the sink won’t get you closer to finding a resolution when the real issue is how you feel about what you make it all mean! 

So where do you start?

Acknowledge You’re Stuck in The Conflict Cycle.

First thing you need to do is identify that you’re in a circular fight and stuck in The Conflict Cycle. Until you’re clear that you’re in this loop, you won’t be able to effectively address it. 

Then you need to take some time to figure out what the real issue is that you’re fighting about. What’s the surface problem and what’s the deeper underlying issue?

Then you have to speak to your partner about that, the underlying issue. 

TIP: The intention here will not necessarily be about solving the issue at first. The intention will be more about creating understanding for both of you.

Consider that if your partner is refusing to do a simple task like put their dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink, they have something going on over there with them about the dishes as well. They’re making up meaning about your request to put their dishes in the sink. It could be that they make it mean you’re “trying to control them” or “treating them like a child” or “being disrespectful” or, or, or…

When you both sit down to talk about the underlying issue you can both start to understand why this has become such a hot-button topic. From there you can start to create a compromise about how you’re going to handle this moving forward.

Having conversations like this is never easy. It’s hard to step out of our reactive position and actually listen to what our partner has to say.

What Can You Do to Combat The Conflict Cycle?

To help you out, I’ve created a handy Guidebook to support you in understanding this issue more clearly. This resource includes step-by-step Partner Workbooks for you and your partner to work through issues like these. It’s literally like having a mediator there to help you work through the issue!

And of course, if you’d just like to deal with this once and for all, I’d be happy to jump on a Breakthrough Session call with you and see if I can help you sort things out faster than continuing to DIY and struggle. All you have to do is click the button below and I’ll be waiting to support you.