Helping More

Painting of a couple


How To Stop The Cycle of Endless Arguing

By: Ellen Berk, LCSW, BCD

Leslie, with flushed cheeks and the tired look of despair, described the cycle of arguing." "Jim and I seem to get stuck on the same subjects; He says I "nag" him and tell him what to do. Why should I have to ask? Why can't he be responsible for himself?" So we go round and round. I feel like I have to chase him down to get him to do anything around the house. He tells me I am nagging him, then I get mad and stop talking to him. I end up doing all the household chores myself. I do feel resentful. We never seem to resolve these kinds of issues."

Figuring Out Your Argument Dance Steps

Leslie pursues, Jim comments on one of Leslie's silent ever-present vulnerabilities;she worries about being a nag. So, she retreats from being assertive with her request for help around the house. The communication and connection between them stops. At the next conflict the same pattern continues. In their argument dance steps they know how to shut down conversation rather than keep communication lines open. This is probably one of the most common argument dances. One pursues the subject and the other retreats from it.

Jim probably does not like this argument dance any more than Leslie does. Leslie needs to hang in there and assert her needs calmly without secretly fearing that her needs are nags. Jim has been manipulative to avoid chores . Leslie may at times be too authoritarian, commanding that what she wants, needs to be done now. This leaves Jim without any choices.

Few of us do like to be told what to do. Hitting each other between the eyes with issues you know you know your partner is insecure about will not help you resolve the issue. The silence or fights that usually follow just perpetuate the cycling of pursuing behavior followed by distancing behavior. Help lead an obstinate partner to make some choices for him\herself.

You Can Learn to Recognize Your Vulnerabilities And Talk About Them

Friends, lovers, and business partners learn what your vulnerabilities and insecurities are just by spending time with you. You can avoid cycling into repetitive arguments by discussing your own fears and areas of vulnerability. Leslie could tell Jim that she worries about being a nag and knows that her request is not nagging just a request for cooperation. The conversation with Jim can continue now. Leslie could further ask what needs to happen first before they attend to chores. Leslie has given Jim room now to make a choice. He might say he wants to pay bills, work out, make love with her, before they clean the house.

You want to move toward shared decision making to move away from power struggles. Good friendship, love, and business relationships are built on mutual trust, respect, cooperation and reciprocity. If you are not cooperating with each other, each person must look at themselves and come up with what each willfully says, does or does not say or do that is contributing to the problem. Next, you can discuss what each of you are willing to do to change yourself. All relationships need elasticity to grow over time.

Remember that it does take two to tango. A relationship problem is always our problem. Together you create the peacock dances and together problems can be resolved. You show you care about having a healthy relationship when you are willing to rationally and calmly resolve conflicts.

Know when to disengage as well as engage in a conversation. When a person is under the influence of substances or too angry to talk, wait for a clear headed time frame to talk. Some behaviors are always unacceptable. Don't fight dirty. No one drives you to drink or strike another person. When behavior is extreme, you are out of touch with yourself and control with yourself. You always have the choice to be extremely aggravated and express that long before you feel like acting out your anger by drowning your feelings or striking out.

How to Stop the Cycle in 4 Easy Steps

Patterns of interaction are habits. We pass along fair and unfair fight rules as part of family and corporate behavior. Once you become actively aware of the patterns of fighting that you create, you can change what you want to change.

Admit that you are 50% of the dynamic dance. It take 100% responsibility to break these patterns rather than hope for change without any effort on your part.

  • Figure out what you do to contribute to communication breakdown and own it.
    ( Do you chase others? distance yourself? acquire selective hearing? selective understanding?, do you have emotional Alzheimer's?)
  • Know your vulnerabilities and openly work with them.
    (You can't be frozen in your communications when you can work with your own Achilles' heal.)
  • Evaluate the importance of the relationship.
    (Are you willing to work on yourself and the relationship or not?)
Find more information in this book:
cover Managing Anger
By Gael Lindenfield

To find out more about your own communication style, Assess Your Communication Style.

Also check out the list of Recommended Reading.

Other Resources
About the Author
Contact Ellen

Assess your Communication Style
How To Stop The Cycle of Endless Arguing
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Your Words Are Your Most Powerful Tool To Use Carefully
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