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The Argument that Keeps Coming Back

Any relationship no matter how harmonious is likely to have a consistent point of tension that shows up again and again.  It might show up with different superficial content as the trigger, but some part of you knows it's that old familiar issue wearing different clothes.

When you get hooked by reactivity around this old tension, you find yourself angry and despairing about something mundane, like how the laundry gets done.  Suddenly the laundry becomes a giant unresolvable issue.  Of course, there is some very practical and simple solution to any mundane conflict, but you aren't really trying to solve the laundry issue, you are hooked on the reactive idea that you must find resolution for this deeper issue that keeps coming back.  This is suffering.

You can shift your relationship to arguments that keep coming back in two ways:  cultivating a clear and compassionate relationship to them and taking small steps over time to meet the underlying needs. Let's start with the first one.  

These arguments usually revolve around one or two core needs and greatly differing strategies about how those needs are met.  This might get referred to commonly as "we have different styles", or "s/he just doesn't get that part of me".  For example, perhaps you have a tenderness around being included and your partner enjoys meeting needs for discovery by spontaneously jumping into something without inviting you.  Or perhaps your partner has a tenderness around autonomy and hears your desire to be included as you "trying to control everything".

To develop a more clear and compassionate relationship to the argument that keeps coming back it's helpful to identify the following core elements of it:

  • primary emotions (one or two)

  • Universal needs (one or two)

  • The way you prefer to meet that need.

  • The "filter" or limiting core belief that is usually present and triggering more reactivity.  Here are some examples limiting beliefs along with the related need:

    • Safety:  "The world is a harsh place.", "Emotions are dangerous.", "You can't trust others to be kind."

  • Autonomy:  "S/he is bossy.", "I never get to choose.", "I'll get subsumed by your needs and lose myself."

  • Intimacy:  "I'm not lovable.", "I will be abandoned.", "I'm all alone."

  • Support:  "I have to do it myself.", "People will always let you down.", "No one supports me.", "There's not enough."

  • Being seen/heard:  "I don't matter.", "I'm invisible.", "I have to work hard to get your attention.", "I have to earn your love."

By just being able to name these elements each time they come up you will have more freedom from reactive hooks.  You will be able to say, "Oh, we are in this familiar place, I don't have follow the same painful script.  I can pause here, breath and let it go."

When you are not in the midst of the argument, you can take extra steps to meet the tender needs from that repetitive argument.  Perhaps you and your partner can brainstorm together creative little ways to meet those needs even if the larger circumstances aren't going to change for now.

A key part of any practice with a difficult situation is asking yourself to put your attention on it without pushing or pulling; just noticing and being with the discomfort allows wise action to arise of its own accord.


Take a moment now to reflect on a repetitive argument and identify the core elements of it: emotion, needs, preferred strategy to meet the need, and limiting or reactive belief.

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1 Response

  1. Dec 18, 2015

    Thanks! As often happens, you posted this right when I needed it. I hadn't realized how I recede into my limiting core beliefs when I am triggered and how irrational they make me. Do you have any other posts about these?

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