Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
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Which is the best way to stack the dishwasher? Which shelf of the cupboard do the baked beans go on? Who is the better driver? Who takes the dog for a walk more often?
Couples sometimes find themselves arguing about little things; things that are so trivial that in retrospect it is difficult to understand why there was an argument at all. This can leave both partners feeling ridiculous and helpless.
So why does it happen? As ever, there is no single answer, but in my experience such arguments are sometimes what I would call “trial” arguments, carried out on safe ground – the real arguments, about the subjects that really matter, are too dangerous because the stakes are too high. So there are, underneath the surface, some very fundamental issues in the relationship which are not discussed.
Let’s take the example of the dishwasher. One of you (let’s call them Pat) likes the dishwasher stacked in a certain way, because that makes it quicker and easier to empty. The other (Chris) is not bothered about that, and tends to load the dishwasher any old how in order to get the dirty plates out of sight and the cycle started as quickly as possible.
So, Pat comes to empty the dishwasher and finds Chris has loaded it all higgledy-piggledy, which makes it more difficult for Pat to unload. Pat is irritated by this, especially as it’s happened many times before and Chris knows it irritates Pat, but still does it. What’s going on underneath this? Maybe Pat feels that Chris doesn’t listen. Maybe Chris feels that Pat is over-controlling. Maybe Pat feels that Chris never listens, and doesn’t care. Maybe Chris feels that Pat wants everything done Pat’s way and really wants a servant, not a partner. These feelings may typify the relationship – the way they make decisions; the way they parent; their sex life. And underneath all this, Chris and Pat are uncertain of each other’s love. Pat would feel move loved if Chris stacked the dishwasher “right”. Chris would feel more loved if Pat accepted her as she is.
Another dynamic here may be that Pat is better at arguing than Chris – more articulate, more verbally adept. This leaves Chris feeling that they can never win arguments – that they are inferior, that Pat sees themselves as “always right”. So, in an attempt to redress the balance, Chris may “pick arguments” about trivial things, in the belief that surely they can win this argument; surely their “perfect” partner will admit fault in this case; surely they will say “sorry” this time. Or sometimes Chris will become very emotional because Pat can’t cope with that. Pat has the advantage in a verbal argument, so Chris counters with emotion.
These patterns can develop over time and it can be difficult to see the patterns when you are in the thick of it all. Counselling can help because it can help you to take a step backwards and understand what is going on beneath the surface. And once you understand, you have some sort of chance to do things differently.