“We have the same argument over and over.” This is one of the most common statements we hear in couples therapy sessions. If it feels like your fights never go anywhere, you may be trapped in a circular argument. Check out these conflict resolution tips to break the cycle, close the discussion, and improve communication in your relationship.
Identify the Underlying Issue (It May Not Be the Topic of the Argument)
Every argument has a root cause, and it’s usually not the actual topic of discussion. For example, let’s say you’re upset at your spouse for not doing the dishes, despite being asked for several days in a row. The root issue may not be the dishes specifically, but rather an imbalance of household responsibilities. You are upset about the dishes, but there is a much bigger issue at play beneath the surface.
If you’re stuck in a circular argument, analyze what the root may be. Trust issues? Miscommunication? Stress? Financial struggles? Pinpointing the problem can lead to the solution.
Focus on Solutions, Not Complaints
One of the main reasons discussions stay in the argument phase is because they’re centered around complaints. You think ABC is wrong and your partner thinks XYZ is wrong. All of your complaints, feelings and concerns are valid, but they’re not going to bring the argument to a close. Solutions will.
Reframe the conversation to look for solutions. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that you bought that without my input,” say, “I think we should discuss all purchases over $300.” Your partner may have a rebuttal to the solution, but this puts the conversation on the path toward compromise.
Take Turns Sharing Feelings and Ideas
You’ve probably seen a ‘talking stick’ used in countless TV shows and movies. Whoever is holding the stick gets to speak, and everyone else in the room has to listen. You don’t have to use a stick, but you should adopt this communication style. One person speaks – the other one listens. Then swap so that each person’s ideas are heard.
As tempting as it may be, do not talk over one another. You may have the urge to interject, but hold off until your partner is finished. This is a sign of respect, and it gives you a chance to gather your thoughts. Talking over your partner means you’re acting on impulse, which is likely to fuel the argument.
Acknowledge What Your Partner Says before Sharing Your Thoughts
Many therapists recommend the “This is what I’m hearing” approach. Once your partner finishes his or her statement, you use the phrase “This is what I’m hearing” to validate their side of the discussion and summarize how you interpreted it. Not only does this show that you were listening, but it also helps your partner understand how you perceived the information.
If there is a miscommunication, you can correct it right away, rather than running with assumptions. This is yet another step that will help bring your circular argument to a close.
Come up with a Compromise That Fulfills Both Your Needs
Compromises are challenging, but every couple has to go through them. Once you have both sides and a set of potential solutions, come up with a compromise that’s mutually beneficial. If we look back on the dishes argument, the compromise might be a restructure of household chores. One person cooks and the other person does the dishes, or chores are divided by days of the week and adjusted to both of your work schedules.
When you find that compromise, the circle is broken. You may have a similar discussion in the future, but you can look back to this as a benchmark for solutions. “We figured it out before. We’ll figure it out again.”
Get Guidance from a Licensed Couples Therapist
Circular arguments and unresolved conflicts are primary contributors to divorce rates in America. You are not alone in your frustration, and you don’t have to resolve it alone! A couples therapist can act as a coach for difficult discussions, and the therapy process will give you tools to use in your day-to-day lives. When you have a solid foundation of communication skills, your discussions are less likely to turn into arguments.