Working Through Old Fights in Relationships
One of the most common struggles couples face is “working through” old fights. It’s not uncommon to hear, “we have the same fight over and over,” or “we just can’t move past it.” The inability to “get passed it” leaves couples to feel hopeless and many times stuck. It’s a myth that “time heals all” because as much as we want to believe that in time we can heal and forgive we also know that time may not be enough.
What if we didn’t feel heard in the past and each time a big issue presents itself, we continue to feel unheard or what if we had experienced betrayal and continue to struggle trusting our partners each time something similar happens? Time cannot always mend these pains.
The goal of processing past fights or injuries is to gain a greater understanding of each other’s needs and perspectives, it is not to rehash or relive the details. Many times, couples are afraid of talking about past regrettable incidents as they do not want to “relive” the pain or “get into it” however exploring the incident from an emotional distance sets the stage to explore without feeling retriggered and gives space for validation and growth.
Working through an old argument or fight requires direction and at times some structure.
- It starts by acknowledging that each person’s perspective is valid and real to them, there is no absolute truth.
- As you begin to talk about the incident focus on how you felt without justifying or explaining why you felt that way. Taking ownership of your feelings without justifying them removes possible blaming or criticizing of your partner.
- Next, describe your reality or perspectives of the incident without describing your partner. This again avoids possible blaming and criticizing.
- Then summarize and validate your partners reality by using empathy i.e., “it makes sense why you saw it that way,” or “I can see why that made you upset.”
The purpose is not to agree but rather to find understanding in part of your partners experience.
- The next step is one that may require some external support. This is because we are trying to acknowledge what escalated the interaction and identify the triggers from the past that played a role in the argument or incident. Many times, we have a story of where these feelings originated, and each time similar feelings come up, our minds unconsciously go to this time of hurt. Being able to share your stories and feel understood creates a safe place to heal and recover.
- The next step is taking responsibility for our own parts in the incident. This allows us to acknowledge our parts in the conflict and gives space to acknowledge what we regret and even apologize.
- The last step focuses on future plans and exploring the aspects you and your partner can do differently to ensure future conversations look more productive.
This tool is one that comes from The Gottman Institute, a world-renowned couples model that focuses on building connection through trust and attunement. Exploring any of these steps takes patience and effort, even guidance however the end result is a thriving relationship based in safety, respect and trust.