You bring up a problem, your partner or friend feels guilty or shamed, and tells you what you did that was a problem. Then you get defensive because his or her tone implies that you are causing harm. So you shame back as you tell him what he did wrong. Of course he feels attacked, because you are now attacking. This can go on for days, around and around, both of you in misery, unable to sleep or work well. What started out as a simple wish to address a problem escalates into a full-on what each did wrong. It may include swearing and name calling. It is typical that when people reach my office, they actually don’t remember the initial issue that set off the classic reaction.
Research has established that four styles of arguments predict divorce. If you want a good place to start developing skills for addressing problems and conflicts, this is it.
I help couples slow down, take a look at what gets them into this nightmare relating, and change their style. It is truly a matter of skills – skills for not acting on strong emotions, for waiting, for re-phrasing, and what to practice when not in the heat of the circular argument. I show how to do this in my book, Create New Love: How Men and Women can Prepare for a Lasting Relationship.
We also look at the function that these arguments may be having that seem to be the opposite of what makes sense. Fighting can actually have the effect of assuring a connection! It is called “trauma bonding” – assuring a bond through the creation of trauma.
As couples become able to handle conflicts, their love for each other is given a chance to re-emerge, to take back over as the center of their lives together.