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How to Stop The Dance of Couple's Fights

Updated on September 11, 2018
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I am a marriage and family therapist with a master's degree in marriage and family therapy.

How to Stop The "Dance" of Couple's Fights

If you are in a committed, long term relationship, there are bound to be disagreements between you two. Each person is unique in their perspectives, stand points, and opinions and have rights to them. Those rights may sometimes differ from their partner’s, and disagreements may occur. There are lots of reasons couples may argue or fight, and we hate it when it happens. I’m sure that when two people who love each other fight, they don’t think “Wow, I’m glad that happened” at the end of a ineffective argument.

Many couples keep arguing and they don’t know why, they may not even know what causes the arguments, they just keep happening. There are many different reasons why couples fight in the first place, and the key to stopping the fights is to find out what causes them. It is equally important to discover the “dance” of the fight, meaning the sequence of it and what happens between you two during the argument. Within those moments of realization you can find what your partner really wants and what is making them react the way they do. When you can stop this “dance” that occurs between you two in fighting, you can create new ways of talking to each other and as a result you can build a stronger connection in love within your relationship.

Why Couples Fight

There can be many reasons why couples fight. There is a disconnection between them and they are certainly not close with one another when they argue. The disconnection is due to one partner influencing the other. A thought becomes a feeling, and that feeling is followed by an action that transfers a thought to the other partner. Once the partner is influenced, they have a feeling that leads to another action, and the fight starts or continues. The thoughts or feelings can happen for a number of different reasons:

They do not feel loved or appreciated by their spouse/partner
They feel hurt by their spouse/partner
They feel their spouse/partner does not listen to or hear them
They feel a distancing or withdraw, therefore there is no connection

When partner A is hurt by partner B, there is often time hurt or sadness that turns into anger. From there, a fight and argument ensues. If a partner does not feel their partner is listening to them, really hearing them, or does not feel appreciated at all, this can lead to a helpless feeling which also leads to anger and an argument will be the result. Many events create a primary feeling like hurt and helplessness, from here a secondary emotion arises which finally results in an explosion which is a fight.

The Dance

A dance happens between the couple while fighting, it is the process of what happens. Often times in an argument, there is a pursuer and a withdrawer. This means when there is an argument, one partner is pressing the matter and yelling while the other partner “shuts down” and becomes quiet and withdrawn. These behaviors become a dance. When one partner pursues, it hurts or scares the other partner so they “hide away” and withdrawal, removing their self emotionally and mentally from the argument. When that partner hides away, this makes the other partner more angry that they are not listening or contributing to the “conversation” so they yell more and louder to get their point across to their partner and make them listen or respond.

Here is an example of a dance between a couple with one partner who pursues and one who withdrawals:

A married couple is in financial stress due to spending more than they earn and they have not had an increase in household income in several years. The husband works full time and the wife works part time watching their child but they have another child on the way. The wife will soon have to stop her work and rely on the husband fully to provide financially. With the new expenses and decrease in income, there is stress in the household.

The wife feels her husband should do more to advance in his career and earn more to support the family. The husband has worked in his job for 5 years and is happy and comfortable in his job with no desire to advance. The wife expresses her concerns to her husband with wanting to earn more money, but the husband quickly dismisses the idea. Here is a dialogue of the argument:

Wife: Our child is due in 3 months, and we are going to need to start earning more money!
Husband: I think we’re doing ok, we seem to pay our bills and have money to do things.
Wife: We are running up our credit card “doing things” and we are going to need money for diapers, wipes, clothing, etc. for when our baby gets here!
Husband: Ok, we just won’t use the credit card as much.
Wife: What about your work? Can’t you start making more money?
Husband: I don’t know, I don’t think there are any opportunities right now.
Wife: You need to start working harder to provide more for this family!
Husband: *Quietly, while looking at the floor* Ok……
Wife: You’ve been working at your job for a long time and have had no raises and haven’t moved up at all! You need to start working harder than this for our family!
Husband: *Quietly and slowly* Alright, I’ll see what I can do…..

Do you see who is the pursuer and who is the withdrawer in this argument. Although it is not dramatic or an over the top scream match, it is a common argument between partners. Money is often the subject of most arguments in a relationship. The dance is the wife trying to find a solution by reaching out to her husband for help. She wants to rely on him to help support the family with the big change coming in their lives. When the wife pursues the topic this makes the husband feel helpless, like he is not enough for his wife. Therefore, the husband is hurt and sad and withdrawals from his wife. When the husband withdrawals, this makes the wife feel more angry because she thinks that her husband does not care about her or the family’s situation. Then, the wife becomes more angry to drive her point that the family needs more money to survive. This dance goes around and around in an argument that is not constructive for the couple or their family.

"The happier we are, the more fluid and varied the dance with our partner is. We feel safe together so we improvise and play."

-Dr. Sue Johnson

Create New Ways of Interacting

What you can find together through counseling is how the dance happens, what causes it, what happens to you during the dance, and how to correct it. Arguments or dances can still definitely happen, but the difference will be your mindset with new interaction. Through therapy you can find new ways of interacting together by finding out what you both really want. In therapy, you and your partner can find closer ways to connect, bond, and strengthen your attachment which will then lead to new interactions. When you are vulnerable with your partner, you are open with them, then you can reach towards them and be close with them. When there is love and respect given to your partner, it can be returned and as a result you will both have a stronger bond and attachment together. After a stronger connection has been made, arguments will not be as important or intense because the bond you have with your partner is stronger than what the argument is about. Suddenly there is less stress and less reason to have arguments because you love each other more and agree more than you disagree.

Learn what your partner really wants, fulfill their desires and it will be reciprocated to you. Be open and vulnerable to your spouse and really let them in to your thoughts and emotions. This way, you two will be able to connect more and grow together. There will be new ways of interacting that are more passionate, more close, and with more love than you had when you first started therapy.


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