Here’s a nasty argument I witnessed in my office recently. Does it sound familiar? Many couples I know have it all the time.
It’s the “I’m Right/You’re Wrong” argument:
“You are so thoughtless,” Jane* says, tearfully.
“How was I supposed to know that you wanted to go out for dinner on your birthday?” Mark replies. “Your birthday was Monday, and I took you out on Saturday. Two nights earlier! You’ve known for months that I had to be in Baltimore on Monday to help my mom move.”
“You didn’t have to plan her move on my birthday. You could have picked any day this month, and I wouldn’t have had to spend my 40th birthday alone.”
“Like I already told you, at least seven times, last Monday was the best day because it was the only time my sister could come down to help.”
“How often do I turn 40?”
“Well, if you would have told me you wanted to celebrate your birthday on your birthday back in July when we were planning the move, instead of expecting me to read your mind, maybe we could have done this differently.”
“We’ve been married for 15 years,” Jane answers sarcastically. “You’d think my husband would know me by now.”
Once again, Jane and Mark are at it. The details are different, but the argument is the same. Jane accuses and Mark defends. Mark accuses and Jane defends. They’ve been having versions of this fight since long before I met them. In the short time we’ve been working together, I’ve already witnessed several.
“What are you really fighting about?” I ask.
Jane’s responds immediately. “I’m angry that he never thinks about me. He just does what he wants.”
“I’ll tell you what I am fighting about,” Mark snaps. “I am fed up with her expectation that I should know what she wants without her telling me. I never know what she wants! But, I’m still supposed to do it!”
I know that their fight isn’t really about Mark’s ignoring Jane’s wishes, or Jane’s expecting Mark to read her mind. It’s simply about each of them believing that they should be able to have what they want, because they are right and their partner is wrong.
And behaving this way is giving Jane and Mark an unhappy marriage.
I tell Jane and Mark what I’m seeing. Mark looks at Jane and then at me and shakes his head. Jane shrugs and crosses her arms, both of them rejecting my view.
“Sorry,” Jane insists. “I’m sure that all of my friends would say that he should have been with me on my 40th birthday.”
“No way. The simple truth is that she doesn’t tell me what she wants,” Mark retorts. “She has such impossible expectations.”
Neither is ready to budge, no matter how miserable this is making them.
Jane and Mark have some tough work ahead, because neither is ready to consider a new way of seeing things. If they are to have a warm relationship, free (mostly!) of bitterness and resentment, I know that they will have to recognize two fundamental realities:
- Your partner is a different person with a different point of view
- You can’t make your partner see it your way
Do you feel stuck on a dead-end road, going in circles over the same fundamental disagreements, without any resolution? Don’t despair. No matter how stuck you may feel, it is possible to move onto a different path.
If you, or you and your partner, are ready to try something new, but can’t figure out how to get out of the loop you are in, I can help. Feel free to reach out.
*All names and identifying details changed.