Do any of the following reasons for fights sound familiar to you?
- how to load the dishwasher right
- other chores and duties around the house or with the kids
- not putting the lid of the toothpaste back on
- leaving the socks on the floor
- other annoying little habits the partner has
- being late for a meeting or event
- who said or did what in the past
These little situations can turn into a big argument, but we often wonder what the big deal was once we step back.
Conflicts and disagreements in a long-term partnership are normal. When a couple moves out of the infatuation of the honeymoon stage, which on average happens in the first 1-3 years of being together, more and more differences emerge, and we go through a process of disillusionment. If we put the work in at that point, we can move to a more mature relationship stage of mutual love and acceptance.
In his book “Getting to Zero”, Jayson Gaddis names five of the most common types of conflicts:
- Surface fights
- Childhood projections
- Security fights
- Value differences
- Surface Fights
These arguments are about little everyday things, as mentioned in the first paragraph above. With these fights, we tend to get lost fighting about content when the conflict is about the underlying beliefs, feelings, experiences and expectations. The fight is often less about the issue itself than how the content was discussed. A raised voice, a specific tone, a sigh or an eye-roll might have set us off. Repetitive fights about superficial issues indicate that there might be unaddressed emotions and needs underneath.
The solution is to explore these fights further and release the underlying beliefs and feelings. Then, once we have done that, we can work out compromises.
2. Childhood Projections
When you are in a significant relationship, childhood projections are part of the game. That is because our first experiences with feeling loved and loving others were with our childhood caretakers. Those experiences still affect us in adulthood, especially if we subconsciously pick a partner who somehow reminds us of one of our parents or other caregivers.
For example, if one of your parents was highly critical, you might attract a critical partner or be extremely sensitive to anything that sounds like criticism. The old subconscious memory and the new experience evoke the same feelings of not being good enough. These childhood projections are unavoidable, and they can also show up in other relationships, like between boss and employee.
Another example is, if we have grown up with an angry parent, we might be extra sensitive to our partner expressing frustration or anger.
Once you realize that you are projecting, own your feelings and let your partner know what is going on. For example, “My mother was very critical, and I felt I could never be enough. That’s why I often project onto you that I can’t please you.” Or, if anger triggers you, you could say: “I’m projecting you are mad at me, and I am making up the story that I must have annoyed you. That is how I felt as a child with my father.”
3. Security Fights
Security fights bring up core issues of abandonment. One or both partners feel that the other person is not “with both feet in.” Words or actions can trigger those fights. Threats of leaving the partnership undermine the core of the relationship and are unacceptable. To feel safe, we need to know that our partner is fully committed to making the relationship work. Both partners need to feel safe, seen, soothed, and supported by each other. That means learning to soothe your nervous system and helping your partner do the same. It also means making agreements to avoid running when things get hard and committing to fighting fairly.
4. Value Differences
No two people have exactly the same values. We tend to have a different hierarchy of values from our partners. Value differences can be deal-breakers when our main values do not overlap or are not compatible. Such differences can, for example, be
- spiritual or religious beliefs
- politics and ideologies
- the use of drugs/alcohol
- monogamy vs. non-monogamy
- having kids vs. no kids.
Some value differences cannot be overcome if we want to be true to ourselves. However, smaller differences can be worked with.
It is easy to get stuck in trying to change your partner. However, it is much more productive to explore how their values are beneficial to you in your life and vice versa. Discuss your values with your partner and why they are important to you. We can usually motivate our partners to see our perspective when we can explain our needs, desires, or values through the lens of their values.
A common difference is saving money versus spending money. The person who strives to save money might have values of security, safety, more predictability for the future, and the freedom money buys. The person who tends to spend more freely often has values of enjoying life now and wanting the freedom to do certain things. Both people want freedom and the opportunities money buys, but each is going about it differently. Those are, however, the overlapping values and the basis on which the couple can work out compromises.
Resentments fester when we feel unfairly treated or unappreciated. More often than not, they result from choosing to betray our own needs and values. When we give up who we authentically are and what is important to us for fear of losing the relationship, we will likely grow resentful. Resentments are also born from rigid beliefs and expectations of how the other person should be instead of working on embracing the partner how they are.
If you want to figure out how to own your resentments and release them, please read my blog “How to Stop Feelings Resentful.”
If you want to get to the bottom of your fights and change your interactions reach out for individual sessions or couples coaching.