When you argue with your spouse, does it ever feel like Groundhog Day? Do you ever shake your head in disbelief, wondering why you’re having this same disagreement yet again?
Hitting the same marital roadblock over and over may relate to a perpetual problem between you and your spouse. Perpetual problems—which even healthy couples have—are difficult if not impossible to solve (though not necessarily impossible to live with) because they center around fundamental differences in personalities, preferences, or lifestyle needs.
In other cases, recurring conflicts or “Here we go again” arguments are better explained by underlying behavioral patterns exhibited by one or both partners. These behavioral patterns—bad habits at best and maladaptive at worst—can damage a relationship over time and lead to resentment or contempt.
Here are three common ones to avoid.
Accusing, blaming, or attacking your partner, while at the same time positioning yourself as the victim, is a common behavioral pattern spells trouble for a married couple. Pointing fingers demonstrates a lack of willingness to take responsibility for your own role in an issue, while also making an adversary out of your spouse.
If you’re not sure whether the blame game happens in your marriage, ask yourself how often you and your spouse:
- Think in terms of who is “right” and who is “wrong”
- Try to paint the other person as the bad guy
- Say things like “This is your fault” or “You always do this”
It’s hard to take the team approach when you’re feeling triggered. Ideally, at least one of you can become present enough during an argument to remind each other that you’re in this together and should take a collaborative, respectful approach to resolving the issue. “It’s not me versus you. It’s us versus the problem.”
Dr. Sue Johnson is a psychologist and author. Her work on attachment theory explores how and why humans bond with others. Bonding or attachment styles are generally grouped into four categories: anxious, avoidant, disorganized or mixed (a combination of anxious and avoidant), and secure.
The first two categories, anxious and avoidant, are also known as Pursuer and Withdrawer. Pursuers, or people who tend to have a more anxious attachment style, tend to be exceptionally good at “pushing their spouse’s buttons,” or doing something antagonistic in order to get a response our of their more avoidant partner, who often shuts down during conflict.
Pursuers often want or demand their partners to keep talking during an argument. They might have a perception that their partner is unwilling to “do the work” with them. This tendency to push, prod, and insist on continued conversation during marital conflict is in response to a painful sense of abandonment and rejection that anxious partners feel or fear.
Learning about attachment theory, seeking counseling, and taking “timeouts” can be useful for breaking this confrontational pattern.
Putting Up Walls
Freezing, fleeing, shutting down, and disengaging during arguments are classic self-protective behaviors of people who have a more avoidant attachment style. They may become quiet, avoid eye contact, leave the room, or attempt to minimize or dismiss the issue.
Far from protecting a person, putting up “walls” often leaves important issues unaddressed, and can worsen the sense of disconnect and abandonment felt by the other partner.
People who tend to withdraw during conflict would also do well to learn about attachment theory and seek out professional counseling in order to help break this pattern.
Are You Struggling With Unwanted Behavioral Patterns?
Understanding and rewiring your behavioral patterns can be a rewarding but challenging task. Contact Couples Thrive to schedule a counseling session.