You know that feeling where you’re having a heated discussion with your partner and turns into a fight? Then it dawns on you that you’re not sure what you’re 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 say, or how your partner responds, you’re not finding relief or resolution?
It’s like you’re having a circular fight…
Those “missing the real issue fights” are pretty common out there and I want to point them out because they’re part of a bigger problem. It’s actually the beginning of a dysfunctional pattern that I call the Conflict Cycle.
What is the Conflict Cycle?
When you have the same fight over and over without resolution, you are entrenched in the Conflict Cycle and the problem becomes ‘gridlocked’.
Having the same fight over and over without ever getting anywhere happens because we’re not addressing the real issue. Eventually things turn from just annoying bickering into frustration and anger.
You feel reactive and it doesn’t matter what your partner says, you’re not satisfied.
This might look like: you see the dishes in the sink for the thousandth time, and you become reactive. 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.
- That’s because you’re no longer upset about the dishes being left in the sink. You’re upset about a deeper issue that is related to what you make the dishes left in the sink ‘mean’.
You feel like you’ve told your partner that when they leave their dishes in the sink, it feels to you like they:
- Don’t care about you
- Don’t respect your time
- Don’t take you seriously
- Take you for granted
- Are totally selfish
- Don’t respect you
- Are lazy
Etc. Etc. Etc… and you can be reacting to more than one (or all) of these made-up meanings at the same time. And because of the number of times you’ve talked (and fought) about this, you expect that if they….
- Were a team player
- Took you seriously
They would start putting their dishes in the G.D. dishwasher.
When your 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 impacts 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 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 is not necessarily about solving the issue at first. The intention is about creating an understanding for both of you.
Consider that if your partner is refusing to do a simple task like put their dishes in the dishwasher, they have an underlying issue about the dishes too; they’re making up meaning about your request to put their dishes in the sink, like you’re “trying to control them” or “treating them like a child” or “being disrespectful” etc. etc. etc…
When you both sit down to talk about the underlying issues, you can start to understand why this has become such a hot-button topic. Then you can 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. In fact gridlocked issues stuck in the conflict cycle are major causes of relationship breakdown.
If you’ve tried to solve this problem at the root and just can’t seem to make headway, it might be time to consider working with a neutral 3rd party. Sometimes all it takes to make headway with issues like this is for an observer to listen for and articulate the underlying issues for both of you.
Trained professionals can also help you both learn how to do this for yourselves with other issues and in the future, so you won’t get stuck in the Conflict Cycle again.