Relationship Conflict: 5 Reasons You Can’t Get Over an Argument

Whether we like to admit it or not, couples hurt each other from time to time and often, in emotionally significant ways. There is an element of truth to the cliché, “You always hurt the one you love.” But not all wounding that occurs in marriages or long-term relationships is alike. Some relationship upsets are transient and leave little to no lasting residue, while other types of emotional wounding reach deep, leaving psychological scars that continue to impact the course of the relationship long after the painful events have occurred.

It’s important for couples to understand the nature of relationship conflict and the emotional wounds that occur—to become more fully conscious of which misunderstandings and arguments have the potential to do irreparable relationship damage.  Let’s turn our attention to why certain misunderstandings and conflicts seem to easily roll off your back, while others are more likely to take up a long-term residence in your psyche.

5 Reasons You (Or Your Partner) Can’t Get Over an Argument

1. Unintentional Versus Deliberate Wounding

It’s common for people to attribute motivation to other people’s behavior—to ascribe “why” the other person did what s/he did. And one dimension where this occurs has to do with intentionality: Did your partner mean to be hurtful, or was the hurt s/he caused unintentional? Not surprisingly, deliberate actions of malice are more likely to shatter trust than accidental wounding. 

2. Episodic Versus Repetitive Wounding

We all argue occasionally with our loved ones (episodic arguments) and the research has shown that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—in fact, trying to avoid conflict at all costs turns out to be detrimental to one’s marriage or relationship. But when periodic marital or relationship conflicts are replaced by repetitive arguing/wounding, couples have little chance to recover from the emotional fallout of previous fights. No mutual understanding and closure over what happened takes place. This cumulative impact of negativity can make couples feel beleaguered and, ultimately, disengage from one another.  

3. Acknowledged Versus Disavowed Wounding

When you acknowledge that you have hurt your partner (even if you do not fully “get” why your actions might have been experienced as hurtful by him/her), you’ve taken a big step toward ownership of your behavior. The message is sent: “I realize my actions caused you distress, and I’m sorry that you were upset.” Such a message can go a long way toward healing the inevitable relationship wounds that occur. Disavowing responsibility creates a relationship environment that is unpredictable and emotionally unsafe, and healing cannot take hold in such an unfriendly atmosphere.

4. Validated Versus Minimized Wounding

Validating your partner’s hurt goes one step further than acknowledging that you’ve caused him/her to be upset (as discussed in number 3). Whenever you validate, you send the potentially healing message that you understand why your partner is upset, that his/her reaction makes sense to you (the message being: “Of course you’re upset, why wouldn’t you be?”). The opposite position, of minimizing or ignoring your partner’s emotional pain, is likely to keep the flames of hurt smoldering indefinitely. When you invalidate your spouse’s/partner’s emotional wounds (wounds that you might have caused), you are adding layer of hurt on top of layer of hurt. Talk about a one-two punch to the emotional gut!

5. Superficial Versus Core Wounding

For a hurtful comment or action to cause wounding, it has to have a place to land—in other words, the more your partner believes and accepts your hurtful comment as truthful, the deeper the pain will be. The most lasting effects of wounding occur when your statements/actions trigger your partner’s core emotional wounds—wounds that were created in childhood.  We all have core wounds from our pasts, and these emotional wounds reflect our deepest sensitivities and vulnerabilities, and when these are awakened and agitated during conflict, the wounding that occurs is more likely to be more intense and lasting.

When couples struggle to make sense of and shake off the mutual hurts that have occurred over time (or that may occur), it’s important to understand why certain emotional wounds rock you at your core, while others seem relatively insignificant and easy to move past. If it turns out that you (or your partner) seem stuck in the quicksand of past misunderstandings and hurts, it may be that one or more of the above is at work and needs addressing.

Marriage And Relationship Workbooks

Healing emotional wounds and forgiveness go hand in hand. I’ve created a workbook for couples on how to make forgiveness a regular part of your relationship or marriage. Click love and forgiveness for more information about this forgiveness resource.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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