How To Get Off the Hamster Wheel of Having the Same Argument on Repeat

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As a couples therapist, I often hear people express frustration about having the same fight frequently. For example, you might repeatedly argue about who takes responsibility for house chores, or one person’s needs being prioritized over the other's. Folks both wonder why this happens, and whether it's even possible to learn how to stop having the same argument repeatedly.

In order for a fight to persist, each person involved must have a certain sensitivity, which might be a source of historical pain. They must also have a related (and very inflexible) protection strategy that they used to survive that pain. When both parties involved have a sensitivity and protection around the same issue, a duel is created wherein both parties are trying to survive and neither is able to connect.

From there, it's common to get lost in the content of the argument rather than digging into any underlying factors. This repetition is an indicator of a lack of repair. But, that's not to say it's impossible to stop the same fight from happening repeatedly in a relationship. Below, find six key questions that you and your partner can ask one another to heal from the root of having the same argument and make room for peaceful connection.

Learn how to stop having the same argument over and over with the help of these 6 questions

1. What issue is our fight concealing?

The content of the argument can distract from underlying issues at play. Even if they aren’t being named, couples' conflicts typically tap into one of four vulnerable points:

  1. Belief that there is a power imbalance
  2. Lack of trust
  3. Feeling disrespected
  4. Having different needs for connection and independence

So, instead of focusing on the specific incident, name the raw spot underneath. For example: “When you leave your underwear on the floor, I feel like you expect me to pick it up, and that sends me the message that I don’t matter to you.” Or “when you are quiet and don’t ask me questions about my day, I feel lonely and like you don’t like me.”

By exposing the root of your feeling, you let your partner into what is true and give them an opportunity to meet you in a vulnerable, not protective, place.

2. What does this conflict conjure from your past (that has nothing to do with the relationship)?

Present conflict can be connected to a past wound. So, share a memory that has nothing to do with your partner of a past experience when you felt like you didn’t matter or that you couldn’t trust someone.

While our partners can bear witness to our pain, they cannot save us from feeling it, and they are also not responsible for healing it.

While our partners can bear witness to our pain, they cannot save us from feeling it, and they are also not responsible for healing it. It's important to differentiate between your own emotional work, your partner’s work, and the relationship’s work.

3. Instead of being critical of me for what you’re not getting, can you ask me for what you need?

It is human instinct to defend if we perceive that we are being attacked (even if we aren’t actually being attacked). In an argument, if you notice you’re using a lot of “you” instead of “I” language (for example, “you are not focused, you’re all over the place!” versus “I want your attention and it feels like you have a lot of other priorities”), your body is letting you know you feel threatened, perhaps through heart palpitations, sweating, bulging eyes, fidgeting, or desire to walk out of the room. Or you may feel the need to convince the other person that you are right. This is an opportunity to pause and course correct.

Take a break, phone a friend, ask your partner for another time to talk, or wash your face with cold water to come back to the present moment. This is the universe’s reminder that you still have healing to do and that you need to take care of yourself, not continue to go after your partner. Get clear about your wants and needs instead of blaming the other for what is lacking.

4. What is the dance we do that creates this repeating conflict?

Many couples have very individualized narratives of what is happening between them because they haven’t spent time coming up with a braided story that invites both perspectives. Conflict is normal, so normalize not being on the same page and also schedule time to come up with a shared story of what is happening between the two of you rather than digging your heels into two separate stances. This shared story requires ownership of the role that each person plays in starting the fire and in putting it out. This might sound something like the following prompts:

  1. “Here are the places we get stuck…”
  2. “Here is what we notice works for us when we’ve lost our way…”
  3. “Here are the questions we still have and areas we need support…”

Additionally, during a time when you and your partner are not in conflict, you can ask, “What can I do or say when this fight happens again to let you know that we are on the same team and that I am invested in working through this with you?” Statements of support allow our nervous systems to settle and feel safe when they feel threatened or attacked. Close connection is possible when we see ourselves and our partners as separate beings, but a part of the same community with shared goals and interests.

5. What are you willing to surrender for what is truly important?

Being in a reciprocal relationship requires surrendering; growing up and being willing to become a new person. You may have previously been the person who refused to consult with your partner before making plans with others because you so valued your independence. You may have previously been messy. You may have previously been someone who “does it all” and then feels resentful.

The question here is who are you willing to grow into in order to create a more peaceful and loving relationship? What are you willing to give up on, a peace offering, so to speak, that is no longer working for you—is it a belief, identity, or story?

6. What would we be doing or saying if we weren’t having this fight?

This question allows you to tap into the part of you that wants to connect and feel close to your partner. It opens the door to things you enjoy doing together, places you want to go, and other topics you want to explore. Asking a question that redirects can help you and your partner unlock from the stuck dynamic you are in, creating new possibilities for all the places, literally and figuratively, you can go together.

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