Renaldo and Alicia are sitting on my couch, arms crossed, bodies turned away from each other, eyes fixated on my office walls.
The conversation started out about a nice dinner they had cooked together at home and somehow ended in a verbal tornado of criticisms and accusations about dirty dishes in the sink.
Renaldo and Alicia are like a lot of my other couples – loving, hardworking, and trying to make it through the daily circus of adulting while remaining connected on some romantic level. But something as seemingly trivial as spaghetti sauce in a bowl can unravel whatever good feelings they have cooked up within a matter of seconds.
An observing outsider may think, What the heck is going on here? Are we really bickering about some stupid dirty dishes?
The short answer is, no. Often what truly sets off my couples are not dirty dishes, smelly laundry, what’s on the TV, or the way a question was phrased.
It’s my job to help my couples be curious and dig a little deeper to understand just what IS it that has triggered their (often recurring) frustrations.
I’ve found that there are common themes lurking under the surface of my couple’s bickering and blowouts:
- You don’t notice how hard I work / the efforts I make to be a team with you
- You don’t appreciate when I do things to show I love you
- You’re not tuning into how I’m feeling, and that I’m sad / worried / angry about something
- You didn’t consider what I would like…you made a decision without me
- You don’t trust that I know how to take care of things even if it’s in my own way (different than yours)
- I feel as if you don’t like me
- I feel I’m not important to you
Of course, these are very tender sentiments, and it’s much easier to focus on the orange juice your partner forgot to pick up for you at the store.
I love helping couples realize that beneath their anger is often a hurt, a need, and a desire to feel more connected. This helps them release themselves from their argument merry-go-round and realize at the heart of the mess is a desire to be loved.
So next time you and your partner find yourself arguing over something seemingly “little,” take pause and give yourself – and them – a little grace. Hit that pause button, reset to a place of calm, and have a curious conversation with each other to see if you can peel back the surface stuff and address what really matters.
Hi, I'm Veronica Perez-Thayer, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.
I help hurting couples find a way through their differences to a place of love and togetherness.
You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Veronica