In Healthy Relationships, Lovers Always Discover the Sub-text of Their Arguments

Whenever lovers argue, what they usually fight about isn’t the real argument. There’s always some fear or deeper hurt that gets triggered by your tone of voice, the way you’re looking at each other and especially when one of you loses it and just blows up. Probably the worst way to argue is not to say anything at all, just sweep it under the rug until it pops up again when you least expect it and bites both of you. Before you know it you both get lost in the fog of the argument and never get to what’s really troubling you, what you really need deep down from your lover and feel you can’t get.

Here are two examples we’ve found in our work with couples at Marriage Couples Counseling in the Village, New York City:

  • Jim loves to flirt with other women and this drives Laura crazy. They get into heated arguments over Laura obsessively checking his phone and computer records and calling three or more times a day to check up on him. She accuses him of cheating and he accuses her of being a controlling bitch. This is the text of their argument. Here’s the subtext: Jim has an unconscious need to get limits from Laura because his mother let him get away with everything as a kid. He really needs Laura to not freak out over his harmless flirtations, to embrace the strong, sexy, dignified woman she really is and feel more secure about herself. On her side, Laura, who was emotionally abandoned by her father who cheated on her mother, really needs reassurance from Jim that she truly is the strongest, sexiest and most dignified woman he’s ever known and that all the other women he flirts with can only have him in their dreams.
  • Whenever Danielle disagrees with Mark – whether it’s about vacations, new furniture or even what they’re going to eat that evening – Mark just closes down and this drives Danielle crazy. She gets so frustrated that she blows up at him, he leaves the room and they wind up on opposite sides of the bed that night, each sinking into despair. This is the text of their argument, one of the worst kinds of arguments lovers can have when one closes down and walks away. Here’s the subtext: Mark has an unconscious need to avoid any kind of emotional conflict. When he was a child, his parents used to argue constantly; they cheated on each other and his father threw his mother out. What he really needs from Danielle is to be patient and gentle with him and to reassure him that lovers can disagree and even have fun doing it. Danielle, on her side, has good reason to blow up whenever Mark walks away from her whenever they seriously disagree. When she was three, her parents separated and her mother was always cold and emotionally distant from her as she grew up. What she really needs from Mark is for him to show her his true feelings which will reassure her because otherwise, like the helpless three year old, she’ll always imagine the worst and then freak out.

Identifying the subtext of an argument is absolutely crucial for lovers. It’s the only way you’ll ever get close enough – more deeply into each others hearts – to give each other the love and caring you’re really hoping for. This hope that you’ll get true mirroring, validation and empathy from your lover is the reason you fell in love to begin with. Identifying the sub-text of your arguments, your deeper needs, is one of the three goals in our initial consultation with couples (see: Your First Meeting with our Marriage or Couples Counselor: The Foundation of a Healthy Relationship.

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