You know about “the argument.” It’s that same fight that comes up over and over again with your partner, mother or brother. Any long-term relationship you’ve had likely has “the argument.” Maybe you’ve asked your mother over and over not to comment on what you’re eating or your weight. Maybe you’ve asked your partner 100 times to put away their dirty dishes instead of leaving them on the counter: “You know it drives me crazy when you do that!” Maybe you find yourself clashing with your sister when she’s late again. “Why couldn’t you leave a little earlier? You knew this was important to me and now we’re late!” Today I’m going to share my top five tips for stopping “the argument” once and for all and creating the connection, love and peace you’ve been craving.
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Same Fight Over and Over? This is About You, Not Them
The first thing you’ve got to do when you’ve been repeating an argument is figure out your why.
Why is this particular topic a trigger for you? What’s going on, really? You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, it’s because they haven’t changed their behavior, that’s why we keep fighting about this,” but that tells you everything right there.
How the Same Fight Kept Coming Up in My Own Relationship with My Kids
Let me give you an easy example: A few years ago, my teenagers were taking showers and leaving their wet towels on the floor. When it was time for their next shower, they’d go get themselves a nice dry one from the closet. So, not only was I left with extra loads of laundry, they were also leaving the floor and carpet wet all day with their towels!
I tried everything. I tried making them wash the towels (this resulted in me adding something annoying to my own list as I now had to remind them to do laundry); I tried appealing to their Gen Z sense of caring for the environment and talking about the energy they were wasting with using a new towel every time they showered; I tried punishing them (taking away cell phones, Play Stations and the like); I tried appealing to their sense of love (“This is a way to show you love and respect me”) – nothing worked long-term. They’d get better for a minute, and then I’d be tripping over a wet towel again a week later. This went on this way for, literally, a couple of years as I’d keep coming back to this issue over and over again. It really wasn’t an argument per se since they agreed that they were in the wrong, but I felt frustrated and hurt and hated feeling like a nag!
My upset got to the point that I literally took this issue to my therapist. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you hide all the towels and just give them one that they have to use for the week? A few times trying to dry themselves off with a wet towel should fix the problem.”
And it did.
Why hadn’t I thought of this super easy solution? WTF? I’m an AMAZING problem-solver! It’s my jam; my thing; my super-power! How had I gotten stumped by a couple of wet towels??!
It’s because I was focused on being correct, not effective. I was so focused on the fact that I was right, and the kids were wrong, that I was getting triggered, which was clouding my thinking. Yup, my brain was hijacked by a couple of wet towels. And the same fight kept coming up again and again.
But it wasn’t really the towels; it’s what I (mistakenly) felt the towels represented. I thought the towels represented my children loving, caring and respecting me. But that’s my own shit. I’ve got some core thing about fairness – maybe it’s because I’m a Libra or maybe it’s because I was the youngest growing up in a large family where things often didn’t feel fair as my raucous older siblings got a majority of my parents’ time and energy, as well as shotgun any time we were in a car, that all-crispy-skin end cut of the turkey at Thanksgiving, or wearing pants that didn’t have patches because they were passed down from older siblings.
Yup, I have some old childhood baggage that was coming up with my kids and it was causing my brain to short-circuit so I couldn’t come up with a more obvious, easy option.
And here’s the kicker, my kids show me TONS of love, care and respect all the time! They say I love you easily and generously, I get hugs and a kiss before bed, if I have a headache Max is tripping over himself to bring me water or an aspirin, if I ask them to take out the garbage the answer is always, “sure, Mom.” Their attitude is thoughtful, polite and loving on a daily basis. I don’t know why the towels were a thing. Maybe it was teenage brains developing or maybe it was just not getting how important it was to me. Who knows? But why was I focused on the towels every day and not all the rest?
The other option, by the way, could have been for me to say to myself, “You know, my kids are awesome, especially as teenagers go. For some reason, this is hard for them. What if I just assume I’ll hang up the towels every day as a sign of my love and respect for them?”
My story is to highlight that there’s a reason you’re having the same fight over and over. It’s touching an old nerve and you’ve got to get out of the past and into the present so you can deal with this issue with a “now” mind instead of one dragged down by yesterday.
My top five tips to stop having the same fight:
Tip #1: Acknowledge
Believe it or not, just by acknowledging that you’re being triggered can turn things around. It’s because you’re taking the focus off of the other person and putting it on yourself. It’s not about what they’re saying or not doing. It’s about you and why you’re reacting to it.
If a complete stranger came up to you and said, “I hate your hair” you’d likely brush it off and think that person was crazy. However, if you walked into your parents’ home and your mother said something even less direct like, “Oh, I wish you’d cut your bangs so I could see your beautiful face” or “I’m so glad you cut your hair, it’s so much more flattering on you now” you just might get your panties in a major twist. “GRRRR! She’s so judgmental! She’s so passive aggressive!” You get the idea. It’s because of the meaning we attach to things when the people we know and care about are involved. What’s the real feeling you’re having? Yes, you’re resentful, angry or frustrated, but what’s really going on below that? Usually, we’re upset because we feel abandoned or in this case rejected and not seen or accepted.
Acknowledging that you’re being triggered and taking a moment to breath and think before responding is key to changing the cycle of having the same fight over and over again in your relationship.
Tip #2: Stop Labeling
This goes back to the wet towel story I just shared. A lot of your upset is due to what you’ve decided this all means.
- If your partner doesn’t put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher, it means they don’t appreciate you and think you’re their maid.
- If your sister is always late it means she’s selfish and thinks her time is more important than yours.
- If your mother always comments on your weight and watches what you eat it means she doesn’t accept you and is critical of everything you do.
- If your boss asks you to make some changes on a proposal you worked hard on, it means you can never live up to her exacting expectations.
The meaning you ascribe to the thing is the reason you’re having this argument over and over. Remember, you feel the way you think, so what else could you think about this situation?
Does your partner treat you with love and respect in a bunch of other ways you’re either not noticing or crediting? Do you need to be bothered by your sister being late? What about just taking two cars? How else can you interact with your mother around the food you eat? Could you draw a different boundary and not eat around her or leave if she comments on your weight instead of arguing about it? Didn’t you get a great review from your boss last year and isn’t a sign that she thinks you’re capable of excellent work when she asks you to make changes?
A big reason you’re upset is because of the meaning you’ve assigned to “the thing.”
Don’t label – share your feelings instead. We connect with feelings, not thoughts.
It’s a thought to label someone (bad with money, angry all the time, bipolar, moody). Share your feelings about the other person instead of diagnosing or labeling them or what they’re doing.
Tip #3: Make a Boundary and Stick to It
The other reason you’re having the same argument over and over again is likely because you haven’t made a clear boundary around this topic.
For example, I have a client who was very upset that his partner kept texting him during the work day. He’d asked multiple times for his partner to not interrupt with anything during the day because it was hard to get his focus back on work. But his partner kept calling and texting and my client kept answering and getting upset. Then they’d fight and it was even harder for him to get back to work.
The problem here (as with many boundaries we set) is that we’re looking for the other person to keep and “respect” our boundary but then do nothing when they don’t. When my client came to me with this issue, we brainstormed some things he could do:
- Leave his phone in the car or in a drawer so he didn’t even know when texts came in during the work day
- Tell his partner that he would no longer be answering texts (really) during the work day and would look at his phone at 4:00pm so anything before then would not be answered. Period.
- Talk to his partner and try to find out why he was texting during the day when he’d asked him not to , but to ask in a curious, loving way.
Ask himself why this was such a big deal for him not to answer the texts during the day. Why was he having such a hard time holding the boundary? What’s the trigger here?
Tip #4: Role Switch When You’re Not Angry
If all else fails when you’re trying to stop having haveing the same fight over and over, a technique that can really work is a little role switching. Here’s how you do it:
- Find a time when you’re getting along well
- Think of the last time you had “the argument”
- Switch roles and have a conversation (not an argument) from the other person’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes and talk about it from their perspective. Really debate and think about every angle of the situation.
- Now switch back to yourself and have a conversation about what you’ve learned about the other person. Can you see things more clearly? How can you resolve this situation from this new vantage point?
Tip #5: Be Mindful and Let that Shit Go
Not that long ago I was a guest on someone’s podcast, and they asked for my pet peeve about my partner — they essentially wanted to know whether or not the same fight kept coming up for us in our relationship. I didn’t have one.
Now, I’m not saying Gary’s perfect or that he doesn’t annoy me now and again, but I’ve found that over the years, my meditation and mindfulness practice has really allowed me to let shit go. I no longer take things so personally. I remember that it’s none of my business what others think of me or to try to read his mind and know what he’s thinking. I’m able to take a breath and think differently about what’s happening.
I wasn’t always this way. For example, it used to bug me that Gary left whiskers in the sink after he shaved. Yeah, he would rinse the sink, but never like I rinse the sink and there were always icky little hairs around. I used to nag him to clean the sink better, but he never really got it and I’d still find hairs. One day, I timed how long it took me to give the sink the extra rinse: six seconds. Yup. It took me six seconds (at most) to give that extra swipe. Was I really letting this get in the way? What if I saw this as an act of service and love for myself? The sink doesn’t matter to Gary, it matters to me. I see evidence of his love and adoration all the time. Was I going to decide that this meant he thought I was his maid or that he didn’t love me? Forget that.
I started rinsing the sink thinking that I was doing this for myself because I like the sink a certain way and isn’t it great that I could have it this way in only a few seconds.
I will tell you that the key to me finding this space where I could truly let that shit go is my mindfulness and meditation practice. It has not only changed my life, I feel like it’s saved my life.
So to stop having this same fight over and over again you want to:
- Acknowledge your trigger (remember it’s never really about the sock on the floor)
- Listen without getting defensive or hurt
- Remember to focus on being effective, not correct
- Think of this is an opportunity for healing; for growing in your relationship. How amazing to lay this old argument to rest and not have it in your life anymore!