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Couples, On Repeat: 4 small shifts to change the fight cycle.

All couples fight, but it’s the one that pops up, again and again, that feels irritatingly solvable but for some reason, neither you nor your partner can find a way to understand each other. In a nutshell: it sucks. The good news is, if you’re reading this post, you might be at a time when the problem is ready to be solved. We might not always have the necessary information the past 5 times this issue was broached, but now we’ve collected the data, growth has happened, or pressure cooked you to the point of, “if we don’t solve this now, I’m not sure how much longer we’ve got.” Either way, it’s clear that whatever you’ve been doing isn’t working, and having the willingness to try something new isn’t easy, so well done. Below are three baby steps toward better so you can immediately apply or toss out if they don’t work for you.

1. How it starts is how it ends.

John Gottman, a pioneer in relationship research, found that the first three minutes of a discussion could accurately predict how the argument would end. So: if an argument is started with tense character attacks, you’ll get that and more by the end of it, yay!

  • Solution: I feel ________ about ________, and I’d prefer if______.

  • This is Gottman’s “Soft Start-Up,” feel free to tweak it to what feels natural for you. Begin by asking whether it’s a good time to have a discussion, it shows consideration, and if it isn’t, you can find a time to plan ahead rather than waiting for the rug to get ripped out. Next: state how you feel. This gets you in tune with your own body and needs while opening up a more vulnerable space for your partner to understand that this issue causes pain, not that they are the pain. Then: say what you’re feeling X about. Be as clear as possible, is this a situational issue, a timing issue, or a broken expectation? Finally: ask what you would prefer to happen instead. Give your partner an idea of what “better” would look like. If you don’t know what you need, how could they?

2. Don’t let it end the same way.

You probably know at this point WHEN the argument will be brought up, WHAT triggers it, WHAT your partner will say, HOW they will react, and so on. The problem with these assumptions is that they will solidify the fight in stone. It’s understandable to have assumptions, we collect data from those we love all the time, their behavior, preferences, and conflict styles. The easiest way to help this fight gain closure is for both of you to commit to not letting it end the same way. No more persuading them of your “rightness,” or convincing them to come to your side. Fight for understanding. Dare to ask “what am I missing here? What do you feel like I’m not understanding about how this affects you?” Half the time people don’t know they’re doing anything wrong. Help them help you. Find what you’ve been missing in your partner’s expression and ask for clarification. Ask yourselves: is this something that is going to be solved RIGHT NOW, or can we put a pin in it until we both get to a calmer place?

3. Take responsibility for your own happiness.

I think one of the beautiful things about relationships is the desire to make someone you love, feel loved. Yet in this time, we’re expected to be readily available to our work, our families, the many hats we put on to be of service to others. We lose sight of tending to our own experience. We give and give and give expecting others to do the same. But that gets us in a funky place of “well, I’m always thinking about your happiness and doing this or that for you (building resentment), why don’t you do the same back?” By this point, we’ve practiced a habit of outward focus that we don’t even know what our needs are let alone take the time to nurture them. What if we thought “I’m going to focus on what I can do to help myself feel better, I trust that you’ll do the same.” Might that take some of the pressure off and allow you to live alongside each other rather than feeling like a partner’s parent? What is focusing on their needs protecting you from?

Take responsibility for the part you play in this issue and for the clarity of the solution you bring to it.

4. Focus on Better.

By changing the conversation from what’s wrong, talk about what better would look like. Think about one week from now; what’s the smallest thing you or your partner could do to feel like things are getting a little better? These tiny moments add up, they snowball into a connection. When all we do is discuss what isn’t working, then we never learn what to do instead. Open up to noticing when your partner is making an effort toward the better you describe. Tell them what you notice. This starts a communication cycle based on positive reinforcement rather than character attacks and criticism.

Conflict in relationships can be confusing, to say the least, but what my couple’s clients are teaching me is the strength of love and connection that’s being fought for underneath the cyclical fights. They’ve shown me that when you get yourself to a more happy place, you’re able to confront the issue at hand with more patience, compassion, and grace.

If you are unsure where to start or how to start this process, reach out for counseling services. We are here to help!

To book our counseling and coaching services visit:


Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Cincinnati therapist and a Cincinnati Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Cincinnati and Cincinnati Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety.

Sam was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English And Cornell university , Yahoo News, USA Today,,

Naya Clinics is a top-rated Marriage Counseling, therapy and Life coaching practice.

Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world.

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