Remember when you first met your partner and you could not get enough of each other? Those were the days! After the newly-in-love-bliss wears off and we begin to see the flaws of the person we chose to be in a relationship with, problems can arise. Years into a relationship those “cute quirks” suddenly become “annoying habits” and a source of more regular conflict. John and Julie Gottman have suggested that many of the arguments that couples engage in are perpetual. This means couples often fight about the same thing over and over again. Many couples recognize this pattern and point it out to one another in the midst of a heated discussion, “Are we really talking about this again?” When partners are coming up against a recurring problem, it may be possible that there is something underlying the stuck nature of the issue. Perhaps a partner has an unmet need, feels ignored, or has a desire or value that is not being validated by the other partner. All that to say, while on the surface it looks like you are fighting about who is supposed to be unloading the dishwasher or who is putting the toilet paper roll on in the wrong direction, what may be underlying is a desire to feel valued, listened to, cared for, or like your contribution matters in the relationship. The hurt partner may not even know why he or she is feeling hurt and then lash out in anger to attack their partner.
In couple therapy, there is a unique opportunity to look into these recurring arguments in a safe environment. Once an environment of trust has been established, partners have the space to begin truly understanding their own desires and communicating those to a partner who is ready to listen. If you and your partner are stuck in a pattern of negative communication or you feel that you are having the “same fight” too often, reaching out to a therapist may be helpful. The therapist can help you and your partner sort through potential underlying desires and needs while also recommending specific exercises to build the safety in your relationship. This can lay the groundwork for deepening the connection and intimacy in the relationship while also reducing the frequency and intensity of conflicts.