Many couples feel that their arguments never get resolved because one partner seems to find the confrontation easy while the other partner wants to avoid it.
“We just cannot communicate” is a common statement made in couples therapy. This communication pattern is very common:
John and Sue are frequently getting into arguments that result in John storming off and giving Sue the cold shoulder. Sue gets even angrier with John when he does this and, despite how many times he says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, she continues to have her say and seems to get louder and more intense.
In therapy, John says that he just can’t handle it when Sue gets so intense and feels like he wants to get away from her. As they describe the route their arguments normally take, it is obvious that they really love each other and want to find a better way of resolving issues.
Sue has a “hot style” – she wants to engage immediately, to “put things on the table” and get it done. If things don’t get resolved immediately, she feels anxious, distressed or preoccupied.
On the other hand, John — the partner with the “cold style” — doesn’t do well with Sue’s intensity. He needs time to cool off and think things through. He prefers to stop the argument and come back to it when he has had some time to reflect and feel calmer.
This difference is normal in relationships. Many couples learn to deal with it and accept their differences. However, sometimes it’s hard for one person to recognize the other style as equally valid. That only creates more conflict.
When Sue approaches John with intense emotion, John’s natural inclination is to move away and think about things first. On the other hand, Sue really wants to resolve things and gets frustrated when John leaves the discussion, thinking that he just wants to avoid talking about the subject. But the more Sue insists, the more John feels that he is under pressure and needs more space and time apart to think and reflect.
Once Sue and John recognized that these were just different conflict styles, they were curious about why they chose their specific style. Sue remembered that whenever they had a fight in her house growing up, her dad would sit her down and say to her, “We love each other, so we are not going to go away until we resolve this now.”
She learned that when you love someone you don’t walk away until things are resolved.
John grew up with a vocal, often moody mom. He remembered feeling overwhelmed by her and wanting to get away from her when things got heated. He would go to his room and wait until things calmed down.
Different communication styles only really become a problem when the partners do not understand their differences and fail to accommodate one another. But partners can learn to relate more positively:
Gal Szekely is a relationship expert and founder of The Couples Center, a center dedicated to helping couples build a Love that Lasts. He is an experienced therapist and he leads talks and workshops for couples as well as training for therapists. Relationships can be challenging! If you and your partner are facing relationship challenges, our counselors in San Francisco, Berkeley, or Palo Alto are here to support you! Contact us today for a free consultation.Like this author?