3 Steps to Resolving Your Fights and Loving Each Other Again
Months before they married, Kyle told Hilary that he wanted to dance with her at their wedding. Hilary agreed, and they signed up for dancing lessons. But when the wedding day arrived, the train on Hilaryâs dress made it too awkward for them to dance together. Kyle was terribly disapÂ¬pointed. To make matters worse, though he had clearly told Hilary that he didnât want her to stuff cake in his mouth, she went ahead and did it anyway. When his face burned red with embarrassment, as heâd told her it would, she laughed at him. ââDonât take it so seriously!ââ she said. âItâs just a little frosting on your face. Everybody does it.â
To Kyle, of course, it wasnât âjust a little frosting.â And not being able to dance wasnât just a little glitch, either. When Kyle was a child, his older siblings mercilessly teased him. Though heâs a very attractive man, he has little natural self-conï¬dence, and it matters a great deal to him that he appears poised and self-assured. Having trampled on Hilaryâs satin train as he tried to dance with her and then having had cake smashed on his face, he felt humiliated by her and doubly betrayed.
By the time they came to my ofï¬ce, Kyle had reached the point of telling Hilary that he didnât love her anymore, and Hilary said that Kyle was impossiÂ¬bly critical.
Then I asked them the quesÂ¬tion: âDo you remember your ï¬rst argument?â Kyle began to describe his bitter disappointment on their wedÂ¬ding day. Hilary listened with amazement. âI had no idea you were still so upset about that,â she said. It hadnât occurred to them that this incident remained unresolved, and they could see that they were still struggling with the same dynamic of the same conï¬ict.
This realization did not bring a sense of hopeless entrapmentâit brought reÂ¬lief, for they realized that neither had been plotting to torment the other. Clearly, the tension between them had roots that went much deeper than any conscious intention. Their task now was to understand those roots.
Do You Really Know What Youâre Fighting About?
The first step to understanding these roots is to look at your cycle of arguments. We usually fight repeatedly about different things, yet end up saying the same hurtful remarks that only lead to anger and resentment. Nothing gets resolved. Why is that? As we see with Hilary and Kyle, they werenât really fighting about their first dance or cake in his face at the wedding, those were just triggers. They were really fighting about Kyleâs lack of self-confidence and Hilaryâs feeling of not being taken seriously. As you can see, since you donât understand what youâre really fighting about, itâs hard to resolve anything!
How do you find out what youâre really arguing about? By looking at your very first argument or relationship disappointment, which is the beginning of the argument cycle.
Then, by uncovering the core issue of your first argument using, youâll see that the roots of the argument are in your childhood, and itâs the underlying reason for all the fights that follow, no matter what the fight is about. Whenever your core childhood issue gets triggered, you want to fight, because youâve been hurt just like when you were a child.
The First Argument Technique
How do you uncover your core issues? By using the First Argument Technique, a 3-step process that can resolve years of conflict into understanding, which leads to hope, resolution, and love:
1. PEEL. Peel away the topic of the conflict to locate your personal history that makes you react so strongly â your âcore issue.â How do you do this? Start by revisiting your first argument or your most recent fight with your partner. Picture or remember another time in your childhood where you felt the same way, i.e., angry, hurt, misunderstood, not valued, invalidated, etc.
2. REVEAL. Once you reveal that memory, you begin to have a deeper understanding of why you react so strongly to what your partner does and says in a fight. You also have a deeper understanding of what triggers you and why youâve been reacting the way you do.
3. HEAL. By communicating you r story to your partner, the doors start opening and you both begin to finally understand and empathize with each other about whatâs really been going on. Because youâre not so heated by the argument, you can actually talk, instead of the fight escalating. Now youâre armored with a system that brings resolution instead of each fight adding to the endless pile of conflict.
Remember that when dealt with, the first argument is small. When put aside, it becomes bigger and bigger to the point of being overwhelming and unsolvable. Therefore, save yourself and the loved ones in your life pain, by understanding that the first argument â the most crucial argument youâll ever have - is a tool for healing that will spare yourself years of grief, hopelessness, and helplessness in your relationships.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Time.com. Sharon has appeared on KRON 4 TV Weekend News in San Francisco, on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information or to contact Sharon, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.