As someone with extensive training in conflict resolution (seriously, it used to be my job when I worked as a leadership consultant for college sorority women), you would think I’d be a pro at managing strife in my personal relationships. Sadly, this is not always the case. I dread fighting with my partner as much as the next girl… sometimes to the point that I avoid conflict like the plague. But I also know (in theory) that healthy disagreement is nothing to freak out about. But if you can’t stop fighting with your partner over the same sticky issue, and you’re not sure what to do next, you might be feeling stuck… so, where should you go from here?
Fighting with your boo is totally normal most of the time. As relationships grow and evolve, it’s only natural that you two won’t see eye to eye on everything, and that’s OK. Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, explains that everyone carries biases and judgments within themselves, even when they don’t realize it. “No matter how non-judgmental and open we think we are, we all grow up with negative or critical messages that shape us,” she explains. “We sometimes, intentionally or not, communicate these thoughts and ideas to others.” And when unconscious biases come out in a relationship, a couple is likely to butt heads.
But when you can’t seem to get past one major issue — no matter what it is — this can be a stressor on your bond as a couple. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been arguing in circles or rehashing the same points over and over. First of all, if you’re stuck in an argument loop, get out of it ASAP. “Take a break and do something fun. Then schedule a time to discuss the issue,” suggests Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, PsyD. She explains that switching things up can help you get out of your head. “Joy and fun moves negative energy out of our system and can allow better problem-solving skills to surface.”
If that doesn’t help, you might want to seek the help of a trained professional. Rhodes explains that couples’ therapists can help partners discern what they really want in their lives, both in the short and long term. “Having a neutral third party person [to] help negotiate the issues can help people make more grounded decisions that are in everyone's best interest,” she says. A therapist will push you both to see the issue differently, which may bring up thoughts or emotions that haven’t been discussed before.
You may find yourself arguing over something that can be negotiated to make both partners happy. For instance, if one of you likes to go out every Friday night, while the other likes to stay in, see if you can work out a compromise. “Stay open-minded and flexible,” Walfish notes. “Remember that rigidity is not healthy.” No matter how much you might be attached to your own point of view, your stubbornness is likely to make your partner double down on their opinion as well — and this means you’ll never get anywhere. “If you are engaged in a power struggle, let go of the arm wrestle,” Walfish says. See if you can find a middle ground.
If your issue is something that’s doesn’t allow for meeting in the middle (say, you both have extremely different future plans and goals), the argument might be trickier to resolve. In this case, try to keep an open mind about where your conversation could lead. “Remind yourself that there is always more than one way to view and deal with a situation,” Walfish suggests. Be open to one another’s perspectives — when you listen without anger or judgment, your partner is more likely to open up and be vulnerable with you. “You don’t have to agree with his/her demands, but everyone wants to be heard, validated, and understood,” Walfish says. “So give that courtesy to your companion.” Talk it out with kindness and compassion, and see if you can wrap your mind around your partner's perspective.
Ultimately, if you cannot reach a compromise or a solution that satisfies both partners, you may need to take a look at whether your relationship can survive without resolving the issue. In some cases, if your futures cannot be aligned in a way that makes practical sense (maybe one of you wants kids and the other definitely doesn't), it might be time to break up. But in others, a professional might be able to help you accept the things you can't change about one another. Coming to terms with your underlying beliefs and biases can help. “Know where biases and judgments exist within you,” Walfish says. “Then you can decide whether you want to alter those beliefs.” If you can change your own pre-existing assumptions, you might be able to change your perspective on your partner’s point of view.
If you’re committed to staying together, you’ll need to work hard to come to a place where you can stand on common ground. But any meaningful relationship requires effort, and with these tools in your toolbox to help you handle conflict in a healthy way, you can move forward knowing you’ve done your best to manage the situation.