The unhappiness of repeating arguments

two bulls locking horns in arguement

Why are we always going head to head?

Repeated arguing: A habit in relationships that drag you down

What do I mean by Repeated Arguments? I don’t necessarily mean constant arguing, although for some people in bad relationships at home or at work, life can feel like a constant fight.

What I mean is those arguments which happen, time after time; often with the same person – often close, loved-ones: husbands, wives, partners, children and wider family.

Repetitious arguments like this can also feature in our work relationships; with bosses and work colleagues.

These arguments frequently have a consistent theme or feature a specific recurring bone of contention. Sometimes they can simply explode out from a simmering tension that inexplicably defines our relationship with that other person, or persons.

This show is going nowhere

Related to ‘repeating arguments’ are what I call ‘go-nowhere’ conversations.

I mean those discussions where on the surface both parties present an appearance of calm and a seemingly earnest willingness to communicate in the spirit give-and-take. Underneath however there’s a cauldron bubbling; unexpressed tension, a vaguely cloaked disinclination to concede disagreement and sometimes even a decided willingness to be obstructive.

‘Go nowhere’ conversations can also happen inside families. They can feature where there’s a lot sibling rivalry or long-held resentments following family fractures. But ‘go-nowhere’ communicating can also feature in families where there’s a longstanding family principle against losing one’s temper.

Often this principle is topped-up by a handed-down family belief that civilised people don’t blow their top but should remain calm and cordial at all times. People brought up to behave this way can feel more comfortable letting a heated conversation to just peter-out, leaving the issues of their upset unresolved, rather than experience the discomfort of having defied the family motto, even when they actually feel they’ve been badly wronged.

The Myth of the The Civilised Workplace

The modern culture of many so-called ‘responsible employers’ is that folks in the workplace should be seen to behave in a civilised and respectful manner with each other. But this ideal can seemingly be cast aside particularly in times of economic recession when keeping a job takes number one priority. At times like these it can feel like it’s everyman for himself.

Strategy meetings, job appraisals and grievances are all venues where dramas are played out under the guise of constructive conversation, belying an atmosphere of bubbling tension and staff competition.

Job insecurity can make ‘go-nowhere’ conversations a common feature in work environments as people protect their interests.

The Fallout of Repeating Arguments

Repeating arguments and ‘go-nowhere’ conversations have in common that they share the same outcome. No matter if the subject is the same or different; time after time nothing seemingly gets agreed or resolved.

The parties are often left angered, upset, feeling unheard or sidelined. For some others it’s common for arguments to leave to leave them feeling wretched, guilty, blameworthy or self-embarrassed.

Sometimes we’re not aware of having been drawn into a repeated argument or a ‘go-nowhere’ exchange until after the fact. We only recognise we’ve unwittingly been drawn-in once the smoke’s cleared. Its like something inside us mysteriously switches into autoplay, taking over our feelings and taking control of our response.

Things can get so constantly tiresome that we might question the future of the relationship; contemplate a job change or breaking with friends.

Feeling this way causes us also to doubt ourselves. We can feel there’s something inherently wrong with us. We can turn to unhealthy ways of coping and comforting: drinking more, eating more, gambling or skirting with danger. These are all common, maladaptive ways people deploy, in order to provide themselves some feeling of escape.

The Vicious Circle of Self Blaming

Noticing the repeating pattern of these arguments or feeling the exhausting attrition of unproductive discussions, we berate ourselves. We say, I’ll never allow myself to get stitched-up like that again? Then we pause and think; then kick ourselves some more. I remember saying that to myself last time.

If like me you’re a self-examining type, your first inclination will have been to search inside yourself for the cause of your feelings.

You’ll ask; what is it about me that leaves me feeling so bad. What’s wrong with me? Am I being unreasonable?

The Problem with Self Help books: bottomless chicken soup

In the search for answers, like me you’ve probably turned for answers more than once to self-help books and magazines.

The problem I find of many self-help books is they only offer temporary solace to our discomfort.

Some nuggets of New Age self-help, the kind that cherry picks from Eastern Philosophies, can even make a person feel worse. A good example, I think, is the notion that the world is a neutral place; that nothing is either good or bad; it’s how we allow ourselves to respond in the way we choose to think and feel that is the cause of our upsets.

The solution advised, one of equanimity to bad experiences, seems yet again one that pushes for self-containment. The answer, we’re told is train ourselves to rise above the upset; to feel the anger or the grievance as only as bodily sensations. The solution we’re told is not to sweat it and just let it all go.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favour of putting things into perspective and only worrying about the big stuff (though I don’t always succeed) but still we’re none the wiser as to how these recurring themed arguments and exhausting go-nowhere interactions come our way

A View from the Touch-Line

For lasting help in changing unhelpful habits we need to have our habits revealed. We need also to be able to spot the habits in others, understand them and then invite them to join us in change.

This has me in mind of the role of a successful sports manager. A good soccer football Soccer Manager with strategy diagrammanager spends hours watching recordings of his team’s matches; pawing over the positions his teams opponents move into and looking how his players cope with those manoeuvres, time after time.

He looks for how his players get suckered into bad positions that give their opponents the advantage; or how the propensity of his own players – some gung-ho, some over-cautious – causes lost opportunities to defend attack.

Helping his players know their propensities, a manager helps them in turn to understand what makes themselves tick. They learn from that knowledge to play more streamlined, tactically rewarding football.

Mastering their own habits and being coached to recognise the habits of those on the league, helps ultimately to them fulfilling of their playing potential.

The Insight of Self-Analysis

Does that sound like insight that could give you lasting help, not just a quick fix?

That’s the aim for you of this series of articles on understanding what drives ourselves and others before, during and after our social interactions, especially those most hurtful which deplete our potential for fulfilment most of all.

Most of the concepts I’ll talk about are those drawn into a modality of thinking about social interactions called Transactional Analysis psychology (TA for short).

Transactional Analysis psychology

TA looks at the content of origin of what we say to and what we believe we’re hearing from others both in our external communicating and internally through the content of what we say to ourselves inside our own mind.

TA was formulated by Eric Berne in the 1940’s to the 60’s in the US from his early roots as a Freudian Psychotherapist.

Though of course help from a qualified therapist is best; following on from Eric Berne’s lead, subsequent proponents have stuck by his ambition to create an explanation of the way people think, feel and behave in a fashion that can be utilised as a self-help therapy.

Understanding how we and others adopt the styles of behaving, thinking and communicating, time after time can help us identify our patterns of repeating arguments and problem conversations.

We can ask ourselves; what am I getting out of this? What is the other person really seeking in this from the way he’s behaving? What is she telling herself about herself, time after time? How can I use this awareness to a better outcome?

What Lies Beneath?

My wish is through this series of articles will reveal to you your own habits of thinking, feeling and behaving about yourself and about yourself with others that will steer you from repeating arguments and go-nowhere conversations.

Next: How your repeating arguments and ‘go-nowhere’ conversations feed your survival feelings? – The misery of Groundhog Day, once again.