My girlfriend and I keep arguing, which all started with her saying that I don’t give her enough affection and attention, especially when she’s talking. I disagree but have been making an effort.
Recently, as I was offloading about a difficult issue, she picked up her phone and started messaging someone, and it created a huge row – and we haven’t stopped arguing since.
The fights aren’t every day but the same themes keep coming up.
How do we break the cycle? I’m bored and so is she but we’re really provoking each other.
Relationships are not competitions. The best of what any of us can give is always given freely and without expectation of return.
‘In my house,’ says James McConnachie, ‘when one of us starts getting at the other, pointing out faults, counting up things the other has or hasn’t done, the other accuses them of “getting out The Ledger”. It’s a way of reminding each other that criticisms and grievances shouldn’t always be voiced.’
This doesn’t mean keeping your feelings to yourself. It means that your communication should be more considered. It means directing your conversations like good business meetings by deciding the desired outcome in advance and working towards it.
‘Before you talk to each other, be clear on what you want from the conversation,’ McConnachie says. ‘An end to squabbling? Something the other person can work on?’
It certainly sounds like you could both benefit from some inner exploration to ensure that you’re not unconsciously playing out the dynamics of one or both childhoods.
‘Feeling that you don’t get enough attention or that you can’t rely on the attention that you do get goes all the way back to your earliest relationship with a primary caregiver,’ says Rupert Smith.
‘Perhaps your girlfriend couldn’t rely on her parents to be there for her when she was a baby, and you’re reacting strongly to her withdrawal of attention when you’re feeling vulnerable. Perhaps, again, this is an echo of something that happened during your childhood.’
In these circumstances, you’re not really seeing each other because your adult experience is distorted through the lens of infancy. Or perhaps what you’re arguing about isn’t the problem at all.
‘When physical pain is felt in one part of the body but originates in another, it’s known as “referred pain”,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘Perhaps your relationship is suffering from referred pain and these arguments have become a distracting, more palatable way of expressing something bigger.’
So ask your girlfriend for a meeting, take a deep breath and enquire as to whether there is a bigger issue at play.
‘Then give yourselves permission to put The Ledger away for a week, even a month, while you work on yourselves and be yourselves,’ says McConnachie.
If your relationship is meant to last, creating this space will allow affection and attention to flow freely and naturally.
Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist
James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)
Rupert Smith is the author of Interlude (Turnaround)
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