My husband and I cannot resolve an issue without fighting

My husband and I fight all the time. I feel like even when we try to resolve an argument he will continue to insult me. He never apologizes for anything but always insists that all our arguments are my fault. I don’t know how to be able to communicate my feelings and still have a constructive conversation with him because he just tells me my feelings and opinions are crazy and stupid and I’m wrong.
Asked by Sue

Thank you for reaching out and for submitting your question. I am sorry that you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship.

While it currently is such that you and your partner cannot seem to talk without a fight erupting, know that it is possible to change this dynamic and to come to a place wherein you are able to communicate better. It can certainly feel like you are permanently stuck in this pattern and it might feel like you can’t see any way out. It absolutely can be challenging and overwhelming. You want to make a shift, yet you keep spinning in the same cycle over and over again.

Often, underneath all the turmoil there is vulnerability buried deep below. Under the conflict there is, somewhere in there, a need for love and a desire for connection. A starting point is to slow things down a bit and step back. Begin with yourself. When you are feeling calm, and when you have some time to yourself, consider what your individual needs are. Try to get to know and understand them better. What are some of the feelings you have? What actually are the needs hiding behind all the issues you are fighting over?

Perhaps you do have some valid complaints about your mate. Set those aside. Playing the blame game and finding the faults in the other person is not going to help right now. It actually will pull everything in the opposite direction. Take a look at you. You can only control yourself. And you need to focus, then, on seeing if you can determine what role you play in the cycle of fighting. Is there a need you have that isn’t being met?

It's also important to think about how you communicate. It can be easy to resort to blaming. “You never help clean up with kitchen after dinner” versus “I would love if you could help me wipe down the counters. It would be so helpful.”

Also, besides identifying your own needs, it will be helpful to begin to understand what your partner needs, too. This can involve listening. It takes patience and open curiosity. It can be easy to get defensive if your partner shifts into blame. But you don’t have to take that bait. Because there is a tricky and difficult point to embrace – breaking the cycle is hard but you can, and may need to be the one to break it. Someone will have to do it, if things are to change. If you catch the cycle starting to gain momentum, you don’t have to accept the invite to the party. This might be as simple as not engaging. This does not mean ignoring your partner or walking away in a huff. It means noticing the dynamic and noting that things are heading towards a fight. You get to decide you won’t fight. You will remain calm. You will choose loving words and responses. You can recognize that perhaps your partner is trying to express some needs – just doing it in a way that isn’t productive. Will you take the bait and make it worse? Or will you decide you will take the lead and not participate in the argument? This can be challenging. It means setting your feelings aside. It can feel like a huge sacrifice on your part. Perhaps – but it can be looked at as a temporary one. You will have to be the one to pause, listen, and try to hear your partner’s needs through their fighting words. Don’t show up to the fight. Do not get into the blame dance.

Sometimes, we need to take a break before continuing a conversation. It can be easy for one or both partners to become flooded. During a calmer moment, perhaps you decide on a signal that will mean you will each step away for a short break to catch your breath. It can be as simple as a hand wave. Or you make it a silly dance to introduce some much needed humor. Decide on your signal and agree you will return after the designated break to finish talking. 

If another person never apologizes, it might work to take the lead there, too. Be the first one to begin apologizing. Be the first to say thank you. Sometimes this is sufficient enough that, over time, the other person will follow and begin doing the same. Your other option is to gently express your needs. Remember, it won’t help to blame. Instead of insisting that “you should tell me you’re sorry” maybe it would sound like “my feelings get hurt by . . .”

Also, it can be challenging to express your feelings only to have them be misunderstood or invalidated. To some degree, we can all benefit from working on not relying too heavily on external validation. In a relationship, it is definitely important to have the other person understand us. But we don’t necessarily need to have them tell us that our feelings are acceptable. No matter what the other person thinks, your feelings will always be valid. And in the end, only you will be able to validate them – nobody else can do that for you.

It's natural to want to defend or strike back when invalidation occurs. But is usually won’t help at all. You can do your best to calmly choose your words well and express to the other person that you are feeling invalidated. Keep in mind that this will depend heavily upon whether or not the other person presently has the capability to hear and respond to that. We are all at differing places in our abilities to discuss deeper emotions and to communicate well. 

Overall, if this continues to be a struggle, you might consider working with a therapist. It can be okay if it is just you who is willing to go. You can make great strides by working on your own communication skills and by learning how to cope and manage your relationship from your end.