In close to thirty years of working with couples as a marriage therapist, I’ve witnessed all kinds of dysfunctional and ineffective fighting styles. In my own two marriages, I had my share of dead-end and destructive arguments (or non-arguments, which are just another form of ineffective fighting).
A good, clean, respectful, focused argument can do wonders for a relationship. A good fight can help a couple solve problems, understand each other, get through difficult situations, and become aware of their own individual shortcomings and blind spots.
However, there are many ineffective ways to fight. Blaming, jumping from topic to topic, avoiding, remaining silent, name-calling, manipulating, threatening, lying, denying, running away, and being violent are a few.
If a couple spends enough time together, another classic of bad fighting – bringing up the past – is sure to become part of their toxic arguing repertoire.
A member of my eight-week course “All The Way In” recently made a post on the online discussion forum:
“I've kind of been stewing on this since I wrote it, and a couple things are bubbling up for me. First, how do you get over that "never forgetting" thing? I often find it hard to communicate with my wife, because I'm afraid of saying anything I'm not certain of, knowing that everything I say can and will be held against me.”
Here is what I wrote in response.
By nature, women are security-seeking creatures. Therefore, their deepest need is to feel safe.
Countless things cause women to feel unsafe, and pretty much everything Nice Guys do mess with a woman’s sense of security (even though we think we're pretty good guys).
Bringing up the past is a way some women try to feel safe (unconsciously). It's like if they can remember past hurts and betrayals, they will be more aware if similar things happen again.
Of course, we men just feel attacked.
But here is the real issue that I've seen tear up countless relationships.
The woman makes an emotional statement, coming from a need for safety, connection, or passion.
The man, though, hears it as a factual statement and starts arguing the facts.
She feels unheard and invalidated, and her sense of security dies even more.
He feels unjustly attacked, convinced he is with a woman who is crazy, likes to argue, or lives in the past.
He withdraws and holds more back.
The cycle goes on an on.
Men, how can you tell if your woman has just made an emotional statement (as opposed to a factual one)?
Usually, it has an "always" or "never" in it, or it is grossly over/under-stating or distorting something.
If these aren't enough clues, here’s how you can be 100% certain your woman has just made an emotional statement:
It makes you feel crazy.
You want to argue the facts.