Man and woman facing each other sitting cross-legged on a white bed representing Stop Constantly Arguing in a Relationship

How to Stop Constantly Arguing in a Relationship

Do you find yourself stuck in the same relationship arguments over and over again with your partner? Do you feel like you’re always making up after a fight? Does it feel like no matter what you do or say, the disagreements with your significant other are never resolved? If you answered yes to any of these questions, don’t worry, you’re not the only one! Today I want to share with you how to stop arguing in a relationship. 

As a marriage counselor and relationship coach (and a married dad), I know that all couples have interactional cycles triggered by what partners say and do. Meaning you react to your partner’s reaction, and then they react to yours – leading to a negative cycle that’s doomed to repeat itself if not properly addressed.

All couples have disagreements from time to time (we’re human after all), but when you’re focusing on the wrong things in your disagreement, arguments are never resolved, so they keep coming up over and over again. If this is happening in your relationship, you’re likely stuck in a negative relationship cycle. 

If you’re reading this and thinking “Yikes! What does this say about my relationship?” Don’t fret! You have the opportunity to learn more about one another and grow as a couple through this experience. Learning how to identify and communicate properly when a disagreement comes up will only make your relationship stronger (and your arguments more productive!). Today I want to talk about primary emotions and how understanding them can help you break free from constant fighting in a relationship.

Why You’re Constantly Arguing in.a Relationship?

When couples try to work through things after a fight, discussions around disagreements usually only center on the topic of the disagreement or the behavior and anger surrounding it. 

Instead of asking “why are we always arguing about xyz” you have to start to look deeper – what emotions and needs are behind the argument? The topic of disagreement is only the tip of the iceberg. True emotions and the needs of your relationship (and as an individual) often lie beneath the surface and are rarely discussed. This is why negative cycles are so hard to break out of! 

One of the most well-researched, evidence-based approaches in couples counseling is called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (the type of marriage counseling that I specialize in). This form of marriage counseling centers around helping couples communicate deeper issues and primary emotions so that they break negative cycles and build better connections and safety. So, why you’re always arguing in your relationship may not be because of the dishes or dirty car – these are just the tipping points of what is lying beneath. 

[However, if you feel stuck doing more than your share of household chores maybe it’s time to discuss an egalitarian relationship with your partner. Read more here: Men, Women and Housework: How to Create a More Egalitarian Relationship]

True emotions and the needs of your relationship (and as an individual) often lie beneath the surface and are rarely discussed.

What is a Primary Emotion?

Here’s a hint; a primary emotion is not anger or frustration! Those two emotions, while very real, are often secondary emotions, which are reflections, or by-products, of a deeper emotion beneath the surface.

Primary emotions, on the other hand, usually center around softer feelings – fear, vulnerability, pain, love, and other deeper needs. These softer emotions often are based on our needs for emotional safety, connection, and wanting to feel loved and respected by our partners. When these needs go unmet in our relationships, it can lead to anger and negative behaviors that push couples away from each other and destroy trust.

Often in arguments, anger and frustration are the only emotions that are communicated and talked about afterward, and primary feelings are not recognized or addressed. This leaves the true core issue unresolved and ripe for another conflict. This dynamic leads to repetitive arguing and makes couples wonder why they keep having the same fights over and over again. 

To change the cycle, couples need to learn to access and communicate primary emotions safely. 

[More information about practicing emotionally “safe” communication here: How to Communicate With Someone Who Shuts Down]

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Couples Therapy for Constantly Arguing in a Relationship: Tapping into Primary Emotions

Notice How You’re Feeling: One way to start accessing the softer primary emotions is to pay attention to what you’re feeling  – where is the emotion showing up in your body? Emotion always manifests itself somehow in our body, whether through muscle tension, quickened heartbeat, stomach discomfort, or any other bodily reaction you might think of.

Secondary emotions are easier to access – anger in the body can often be accessed before or after it is triggered, but primary emotions such as fear or pain will likely manifest some other way. Try to become more aware of your body when you become emotional and begin to match different bodily reactions to different emotions – you’ll notice the difference faster than you think.

Practice Naming Your Feelings: Some people have an easier time accessing primary emotions in the body, but have a more difficult time assigning a name to the primary emotion. This can be especially true for men (but many women can struggle with this too). 

[For more on this topic check out my “Understanding Men” podcast.] 

An emotion wheel, or “feelings wheel” (available readily online), can help put a name to an emotion than a general “fear” or “pain” that may not accurately describe what you are feeling in that moment.

Remember, if you can access and name your primary emotions, then you are taking the first step in communicating those emotions to help break a negative cycle. 

[Learn more about how being in touch with your feelings can help you improve your communication in, “Empathy: The Key to Communication and Connection“]

Communicating Your Real Feelings in Relationship Arguments

…you’re no longer just communicating anger and going around in circles; you’re getting to the root of your anger and frustration…

Get Support: Learning how to communicate primary emotions safely usually should be done with the support of a couples counselor or relationship coach, as many people can find this surprisingly challenging, especially in the beginning. 

A marriage counselor who is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy will have the most skill and experience in helping couples get in touch with their feelings, and communicate them in a productive way to their partner.

Create Safety: Communicating primary emotions in a way that is safe for the sharer and listener can feel challenging, especially in cases where couples have had bad experiences when expressing their authentic feelings. However, this type of couples counseling can lead to more effective, longer-lasting relationship repair than types of marriage counseling that feel like more of a “band-aid” than a healing process.

Avoid Blame: Someone with a history of not feeling safe expressing emotion will need assurance and trust that they will not be hurt doing so, and that can be difficult to find. Sharing primary emotions in a safe way requires the sharer to own their emotions and share them in a way that is not blaming the listener.

Focus on Listening: Accepting primary emotions requires the listener to not judge or try to “fix” the pain that the sharer is revealing, only to listen, accept the emotion for what it is, and validate the sharer. 

Becoming a Better Listener sounds easy to do, but it isn’t, which is why couples counseling or coaching is highly recommended to learn how to practice communication in a way that provides safety for both the sharer and listener.

How to Stop Arguing

Yes, learning how to communicate differently can be challenging but the benefits of safely communicating primary emotions and needs can be relationship-changing. All people need connection and attachment, and couples often feel more connected and trusting after communicating fear and hurt rather than anger. 

Feeling safer with communication will often reduce triggering behaviors such as withdrawing/stonewalling, criticism, defensiveness, and trying to “fix” problems, and reducing the frequency of those will also bring a couple closer together!

More to the point, learning to communicate softer primary emotions will help break negative interactional cycles – you’re no longer just communicating anger and going around in circles; you’re getting to the root of your anger and frustration, and trusting your partner to hear your authentic feelings. 

What could bring a couple closer than knowing they can talk about their deepest feelings, and knowing that they will be validated and accepted?

Those deep feelings and primary emotions are already part of all of your arguments, whether or not you’re currently aware of them or talking about them. When you learn how to communicate them directly, you’ll see your relationship change in ways you might not imagine, replacing resentment and anger with understanding, trust, and connection.

I hope this relationship advice helps you stop fighting, start understanding, and find your way back together again.

Seth B., MA, LPC, LMFT

Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

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6 Comments

  1. i am not the couple i am the mother of one half of the couple. my son and his other half and two kids are here for the holiday. it was suppose to be a time to relax but for the past 11 days its fights and they always start at the same time every day. she puts him down, calls him names, tells him he’s a loser and a terrible father. how he does not see his older kids. she pushes at him till he flips and get angry then the yelling will start and she then starts to cry saying he started it when i can hear him telling her to just stop. she threatens to take his kids from him. he cares for her a lot but he cant handle all this constant battling. he gets sick, throws up and she then laughs at him an tells him he is weak. no matter what he does she puts it down. he’s a professional chef and out of work now, but he has been cooking since he’s been here. but whatever he cooks she has a negative comment. i know this for a fact since i am here to hear it. then if you add the alcohol it gets worse. i am at a lost and i know this is not good for the kids, they are only 4 and 6

    1. Hi Edna, Lisa Marie B here. Thank you so much for reaching out. This sounds like a terrible situation, and I can only imagine how much your heart must ache for your son.

      I asked my colleague, Denver marriage counselor Seth Bender, M.A., MFTC (writer of this article) to respond to your question and here’s what he had to say:

      “Hi Edna, I am so sorry to hear of the situation your family is in, and that your Thanksgiving has been fraught with so much family conflict, especially during this difficult time with COVID when family gatherings are rare and needed. I know how hopeless and difficult this situation can feel in my own experience as well. Based off of what you have posted, I would highly recommend that you encourage your son and his spouse to begin engaging in couples counseling. If your son is not engaged in individual counseling, I would encourage him to possibly seek that out too. You can find both couples and individual options here at Growing Self Counseling & Coaching at https://www.growingself.com/about-growing-self/ or at 720-370-1800. We would love to hear from you.”

      Edna, Lisa here again. I would ditto everything that Seth suggested. This is not something that you can fix in your role as a mom, they need professional help. It’s also generally a bad idea for mother-in-laws to jump into the fray of their kid’s relationships because your doing so will make things worse rather than better. (It will make it much harder for she and your son to have a good relationship if she feels that 1) you hate her and 2) her husband is more closely aligned with you than he is her.) Not good.

      One thing that you can do to support / nudge them in this direction while maintaining the appearance of being gracious, non-partisan, and unconditionally loving towards both of them would be to “gift” them with marriage counseling or relationship coaching. (Yes, there is such a thing as a gift certificate for therapy!) You can send it along with a little encouraging note saying something like, “All couples struggle sometimes but I know you love each other and are committed to doing everything you can to have a fantastic marriage. I hope this helps you along the way. Love, Mom.” And then — this is important — never mention it again.

      They can then decide to use it or not, but either way YOU will probably feel much better knowing that you’ve taken positive action to help them. It will also probably make you feel good to know that if / when they do get in front of a well-qualified marriage counselor he or she is going to call out / shut down the abusive dynamics firmly and immediately.

      I hope that this no-nonsense feedback from a good marriage counselor leads to growth and healing for them both as individuals and as a couple, so they can develop a more respectful relationship with each other and a healthier family environment for their children. If that is not possible, I hope that it leads to empowerment for your son to protect himself and your grandkids from an emotionally damaging situation.

      I bet you’ve been in your kid’s corner his whole life. He’s lucky to have you as his mom!

      All the best,
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  2. i am not the couple i am the mother of one half of the couple. my son and his other half and two kids are here for the holiday. it was suppose to be a time to relax but for the past 11 days its fights and they always start at the same time every day. she puts him down, calls him names, tells him he’s a loser and a terrible father. how he does not see his older kids. she pushes at him till he flips and get angry then the yelling will start and she then starts to cry saying he started it when i can hear him telling her to just stop. she threatens to take his kids from him. he cares for her a lot but he cant handle all this constant battling. he gets sick, throws up and she then laughs at him an tells him he is weak. no matter what he does she puts it down. he’s a professional chef and out of work now, but he has been cooking since he’s been here. but whatever he cooks she has a negative comment. i know this for a fact since i am here to hear it. then if you add the alcohol it gets worse. i am at a lost and i know this is not good for the kids, they are only 4 and 6

  3. Hi Edna, Lisa Marie B here. Thank you so much for reaching out. This sounds like a terrible situation, and I can only imagine how much your heart must ache for your son.

    I asked my colleague, Denver marriage counselor Seth Bender, M.A., MFTC (writer of this article) to respond to your question and here’s what he had to say:

    “Hi Edna, I am so sorry to hear of the situation your family is in, and that your Thanksgiving has been fraught with so much family conflict, especially during this difficult time with COVID when family gatherings are rare and needed. I know how hopeless and difficult this situation can feel in my own experience as well. Based off of what you have posted, I would highly recommend that you encourage your son and his spouse to begin engaging in couples counseling. If your son is not engaged in individual counseling, I would encourage him to possibly seek that out too. You can find both couples and individual options here at Growing Self Counseling & Coaching at https://www.growingself.com/about-growing-self/ or at 720-370-1800. We would love to hear from you.”

    Edna, Lisa here again. I would ditto everything that Seth suggested. This is not something that you can fix in your role as a mom, they need professional help. It’s also generally a bad idea for mother-in-laws to jump into the fray of their kid’s relationships because your doing so will make things worse rather than better. (It will make it much harder for she and your son to have a good relationship if she feels that 1) you hate her and 2) her husband is more closely aligned with you than he is her.) Not good.

    One thing that you can do to support / nudge them in this direction while maintaining the appearance of being gracious, non-partisan, and unconditionally loving towards both of them would be to “gift” them with marriage counseling or relationship coaching. (Yes, there is such a thing as a gift certificate for therapy!) You can send it along with a little encouraging note saying something like, “All couples struggle sometimes but I know you love each other and are committed to doing everything you can to have a fantastic marriage. I hope this helps you along the way. Love, Mom.” And then — this is important — never mention it again.

    They can then decide to use it or not, but either way YOU will probably feel much better knowing that you’ve taken positive action to help them. It will also probably make you feel good to know that if / when they do get in front of a well-qualified marriage counselor he or she is going to call out / shut down the abusive dynamics firmly and immediately.

    I hope that this no-nonsense feedback from a good marriage counselor leads to growth and healing for them both as individuals and as a couple, so they can develop a more respectful relationship with each other and a healthier family environment for their children. If that is not possible, I hope that it leads to empowerment for your son to protect himself and your grandkids from an emotionally damaging situation.

    I bet you’ve been in your kid’s corner his whole life. He’s lucky to have you as his mom!

    All the best,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  4. My husband seems to be on a cycle of being nice to me about four days then critical and argumentative more than usual for about for days. He blows up about small matter and takes everyone wrong. He is a blamer. His grown son inherited the temper. He won’t seek counseling. His hearing loss doesn’t help. We both go to church, but he won’t let me confide in anyone. I live in a small community. I’ve decided to educate myself on how to cope. What could be wrong with him?

  5. Debbie, I’m so sorry to hear this. It does sound hard. You’re making a healthy choice to focus on yourself and how best to cope… and take care of yourself. Ultimately, we can’t change our partners. We can ask for what we need. But when we’ve gone unheard or our needs go unmet for so long, we can become focused on what’s ‘wrong’ with our partner and changing them – and the way we ask for our needs can deteriorate into something that only digs our relationship into a deeper hole. What we CAN control is how we take care of ourselves: self-compassion tools, coping skills, boundaries, self-care… Even if your husband isn’t interested in therapy, you can go without him. Warmly, Dr. Lisa

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