There’s something strange about conflicts in marriage.
Modern couples could fight about thousands of things. Life these days, after all, is messy, complicated, and full of an endless stream of logistical challenges, to-dos, and parenting dilemmas.
And yet, when it comes to what we actually fight about, most of us have a pretty short list. The same three to five recycled conflicts just keep popping up, again and again.
For us, it's three things: balancing time spent with each set of families, navigating our different views on money, and struggling to find consensus around what constitutes a “clean” living space (we'll let you guess which one of us has a higher set of standards).
Why do these same conflicts keep coming up?
Recycled conflicts are often a sign that one or both of you doesn’t feel heard. Sure, you may have expressed off-hand requests or vented your frustration. But, for whatever reason, you may still feel like your partner doesn't fully understand your perspective.
This can make it sound like it's your partner's fault -- that if they just listened to you, these longstanding disagreements would magically disappear.
But the truth is that recycled conflicts often show up when we fail to reveal our full truth. You may have mentioned your frustration in passing or through sarcasm, criticism, or humor. But the fact that this issue keeps repeating often means you haven’t expressed your concern directly.
So how can you improve your ability to navigate these recycled conflicts?
Revisiting these recycled conflicts is like revisiting your house after you’ve been trapped in it during a six month quarantine: it’s almost impossible to see with fresh eyes.
The result is that we have a tendency to enter these conversations with all sorts of assumptions. We think we know exactly what our partner is saying. After all, we’ve been here so many times before. But that's the problem. We are often not actually listening to our partner.
So see what happens when you approach the conversations over your recycled issues with an intention to listen carefully, from a spirit of radical generosity. Let go of what you think your partner is about to say. Pay close attention to what they're actually saying, perhaps even reflecting back what you heard with sincere care and understanding.
These conflicts keep coming back because we only reveal part of our truth or reveal our experience in ways that make it nearly impossible for our partner to hear our deepest request.
So see what happens when you reveal your full experience from a place of radical generosity. Instead of blasting them with criticism, share your experience of feeling hurt, upset, or frustrated as a gift to the relationship. Do it from kindness rather than anger, generosity rather than rage.
By shifting the spirit of the conversation and revealing your full experience, you alone hold the power to shift the nature of this conflict. It may not vanish completely. It may still come back from time to time. But by listening carefully and revealing with generosity of spirit, this conflict will no longer return with the same force and intensity.