It’s their first session of couple therapy. I’ve invited Josh and Sarah to have a seat on the couch. They are obviously anxious, wondering what to expect. After exchanging some pleasantries, Sarah announces, “We just keep having stupid argument after stupid argument. We can’t seem to get out of the loop.”
This is a really familiar start. Thankfully, I’m no longer tempted to ask about the content of their “stupid arguments.” Instead, my first response is to say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid argument. It just doesn’t exist. There are plenty of stupid topics but there’s never a stupid argument.”
What I want to convey is that every argument a couple has contains the seeds of what’s really going on between the two of them. Every argument, no matter what the topic, revolves around an important, even essential, issue.
Sometimes the arguments are about power or control.
Who gets to decide what happens next?
Who is in charge?
Sometimes they are around concerns one or the other has about the quality of their attachment.
Do you really love me?
Will you stay with me?
Sometimes they are about fear that the other isn’t being open and honest.
I don’t know if I can trust what you’re saying.
It feels like more is going on than meets the eye.
The more a couple focuses their attention on the topic of the argument, the less likely they are to resolve the underlying issue that fuels the argument. Focusing on the topic is often like focusing on the symptom rather than the actual disease. Granted, symptoms can be really compelling. It takes a lot of self-discipline to effectively look past the topic of the argument and attend to the real issue.
So… the next time you find yourself in the middle of what feels like a stupid argument, ask yourself, “What’s really going on here? What are the deeper issues we are confronting in the middle of this stupid argument?”
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.