Fighting is a common occurrence in many relationships, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re struggling to stop fighting and feel more connected as a couple, read on to understand why this happens and how to overcome it.
Most couples get stuck in an argument cycle where they become defensive and fail to understand each other. This can lead to endless fighting and little progress. Your communication turns into a conflict pattern where you either argue all the time or simply stop talking.
To start, let’s review some of the typical reasons couples fight. One reason is because of different expectations. When two people are in a relationship, they often have different ideas about what that means and what each person’s role is. This can lead to arguments about who should be doing what and why things aren’t getting done the way you want them to.
For example, women often expect their partners to be romantic, attentive, and understanding. They want someone who will listen to them and be there for them emotionally. Men often expect their partners to be more practical and efficient. They don’t overthink housework and childcare, and want someone who won’t nag them about every little thing.
Let’s get real. How many times have you been told you didn’t do something the right way? It can be about little things (chores!), like loading the dishwasher or making kids’ lunches, or any fill-in-the-blank from your last fight. And that sets off the bigger issues. Couples often tell me things like “he says I’m too emotional,” or “she doesn’t show me any affection.” Whether the argument starts with something little or big, it tends to feel the same–that dreaded conversation loop on repeat where you both feel so misunderstood and disconnected from each other.
Couples fight when they don’t feel heard or important. Feeling disrespected and misunderstood can trigger the classic pursue/withdraw cycle, where one partner checks out, gets silent and shuts down, and the other is left feeling abandoned, going into hot, angry pursuit to get any answer and not be left alone. Before you know it, you’re in full-blown fight mode.
It’s easy to slip into these defensive stances when we fight. Why? Because we learned these as children to protect ourselves. Being defensive is really all about protecting yourself from the hurt! As kids, we needed to quickly adapt to our environment when it got chaotic to ensure survival. Early on, we realized we had two options: either get quiet so we aren’t in the way until things calm down, or cry out to make sure we’re noticed and not left behind.
As adults, we tend to do the same thing in our relationships. When we feel threatened or misunderstood, we either shut down and withdraw, or become defensive and try to control the situation. This usually leads to more fighting and doesn’t help us feel closer as a couple.
So how can you break this negative cycle? The first step is to understand that your defenses arise when your attachment needs aren’t being met. So what are attachment needs? They’re the things that we need from our partner in order to feel secure in the relationship. Things like trust, support, and understanding. When we feel like we’re not getting these things from our partner, it can trigger an emotional reaction.
Attachment needs are also the things we needed from our parents to feel safe and secure as children. Think back to the little kid who seeks attention, “watch me, mama!” because she wants to be seen and matter to her mother, and instead is met with “can’t you see I’m busy.” Or the child who hears “you should have done it this way,” and slinks back to their room because they just can’t ever get it right or be enough. In both cases, as children and as adults, we so desperately want to be loved. We want to be loved just as we are and to feel connected.
When we understand our attachment needs, we can start to see arguments as an opportunity to connect with our partner, rather than a chance to tear each other down. Couples therapy can help you break out of your negative cycle, by showing you how your defenses are really a way to know that you matter and that you’re enough to your partner.
In order to feel close and connected, we need to feel safe and secure in the relationship. This sense of safety comes from feeling like our partner is there for us, that they understand and accept us, and that they are reliable and dependable. When we don’t feel this sense of safety, we can start to worry that our partner doesn’t really care about us or that they might leave us, which can lead to feeling insecure and anxious in the relationship.
But when we feel like we’re truly seen and loved by our partner, it changes the way we fight. Instead of feeling like we have to protect ourselves all the time, we can relax and be more open. We can express our needs without feeling like we’re being judged or that we’re not good enough, without fear of abandonment or criticism. Most of the time, we never express these deeper feelings that lie underneath what we say when we argue, so our partners never really know.
Couples therapy can help you learn how to share your needs and unspoken feelings in a way that your partner can appreciate and better respond to you. When you feel understood, it’s easier to be patient and kind with your partner. You become a team again. Communication is now what connects you, makes you feel heard, and lets you solve problems together.
Of course, this isn’t always easy. It takes time and effort to learn how to express ourselves in a way that our partner can understand. But it’s worth it!
What are your attachment needs? Have you ever expressed them to your partner? Share in the comments below!
And, if you’re struggling to communicate with your partner, consider couples therapy. It could be the first step to feeling more connected!