I was in a relationship awhile back where we got into the same argument every three to four months. The problem was how much time I spent with others outside the relationship and how well or how poorly I treated my partner once we saw each other again. I did not see a problem; she did, thus, the argument.
Each time we got into this argument, I became more frustrated and wondered if the relationship was worth it. It typically took ten days to a month to get back to both of us being happy again. I was tired of it.
This does not seem to be an unusual relationship problem.
Even though the problem kept recurring, it always caught me by surprise because we did agree on how much time we spent together. In my mind, I did not treat her differently once we saw each other again.
Often in the arguments, I got tired of listening to her and simply said, “Whatever”, either out loud or to myself, thinking that I would wait it out until she was tired of fighting. This was not helpful, although it did let me escape for a little while. Shutting down – sometimes because I did not think we were getting anywhere and other times, not wanting to have to think about what she was saying.
We both needed time for ourselves, downtime to “recharge our batteries”. I needed a little more time than she did. We both knew this and she recognized that I was not taking the time I needed for myself when I spent more time with others. This would then supposedly impact our “quality” time together.
Not getting anywhere by shutting down, I thought I would try something new: Pay close attention to how I treated her after spending time with others. I would also focus on what she said I was doing – focus on her arguments to see if they were accurate.
She was right about a couple things. My conversations with her (although not my actions) slid into more traditional 1950’s style male/female roles. This did not go over too well. She was wrong about other things, however: a presumption that I was bad-mouthing her to my friends. I also recognized and told her about a self-conscious laugh she had when she was not being entirely accurate or fair.
We agreed to try to communicate better to try to make things better.
It took me some time to agree that my lack of downtime affected how I treated her. It took a little longer to make three fairly big changes – manage my time better, find some new ways to “recharge”, and spend slightly (ever so slightly) less time with others.
The first time we did not have our usual argument, I told her I had not acted any differently than in the past. She told me my behavior towards her was much better. Looking closer, I saw we listened more and accepted responsibility for our roles with this problem. The changes we needed to make were not too difficult in order to make this problem go away and it led to better things for the relationship and for me.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.
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