Solvable Versus Perpetual Conflict

Why Have We Been Fighting About the Same Thing for Years?

Have you ever noticed that you and your partner always argue about the same thing, just in a different way? Maybe you have been arguing about your in-laws for the last five years. Or maybe you have been fighting about how you spend your money for the last fifty years! This is because there are two kinds of conflicts that couples have: solvable conflict and perpetual conflict. The names speak for themselves.

Solvable vs. Perpetual conflicts

Solvable problems are ones that can be resolved. Housework, for example, is a solvable problem. Couples can divide up household chores, decide to share, or decide that one person will take on that responsibility. Regardless of which option couples choose, there is a solution to the issue.

Other types of solvable issues include how much money to spend on dinner, how to manage work stress, and what to do together over the upcoming weekend. With these kinds of problems, no one is giving up a part of who they are to come to an agreement. Even if you each want different things, a compromise can be made that allows both people to come to an agreement. Problem solved!

However, perpetual conflicts are issues that cannot be solved one time through a compromise. Even if you solve the issue once, it pops up again in a different disguise. The reason that perpetual problems come up repeatedly over the course of a relationship is because there aren’t any solutions.

So, can we resolve our perpetual conflict?

Unfortunately, there are no ways to solve perpetual problems because they are rooted in fundamental differences in lifestyle or personality.

Compromise can be made or a temporary solution can be found – but there isn’t a straightforward answer.

Some examples of perpetual problems are:

  • Family planning (one person wants to have kids and the other does not)
  • Money spending habits (one person is frugal and the other spends freely)
  • In-laws (one person’s in-laws dislike their partner or are overbearing)
  • Jealousy (one person enjoys socializing with friends and the other feels left out)
  • Different values or beliefs (one person is religious, the other is not)
  • Clashing personalities (one person is an introvert, the other an extrovert)

These problems cannot be compromised. It’s one way or the other.

Having perpetual conflict doesn’t mean a relationship is doomed – even the best relationships have perpetual problems! No relationship is perfect. There is a somewhat humorous saying that goes:

When choosing a lifelong partner, think of it as choosing a particular set of problems that you can live with for the rest of your life.”

In other words, no matter whom you are with, there are going to be problems in that relationship. A successful partnership is largely dependent upon the way a couple is able to manage conflict or a disagreement.

Here’s an example of how a couple manages their perpetual conflict:

Casey is angry with Taylor because Taylor is always late, and they had a party they were supposed to be at an hour ago. Casey is so angry that he thinks, “I never should have married Taylor. I am so tired of always being late to everything. I should have married Reese.”

However, if Casey had married Reese, they would have gotten to the party on time, but they would have argued for the entire ride home because Reese is a very jealous person, and Casey spends his social outings talking to other people. On the other hand, Taylor and Casey have never argued about this because Taylor also enjoys socializing with other people when they go out.

See? One problem might be resolved by being with someone different, but a new problem will replace it! Conflict is inevitable when any two people tie their lives together. Every issue that a couple faces is relative; what might be a big deal to some people hardly bothers other people.

Managing perpetual conflict

But how should perpetual conflict be managed? If couples are always going to have problems, there must be a way to address them!

To work through perpetual problems, you and your partner need to have a longer conversation than you would if you were simply compromising about the best couch to buy, for instance.

The key to finding a conclusion to perpetual problems is first searching for the underlying reason as to why the issue is so important to each person. This could be an aspiration or value that guides a person’s decisions and motives in life. It can stem from their family and upbringing, a past experience, or a core virtue.

Understanding your partner’s perspective

Identifying this underlying reason is actually easier than it sounds. Here’s an example to explain:

Imagine that Bailey and Cory are married. Bailey hates traveling, but Cory loves it. This is a perpetual problem for them because every time Cory wants to go on a trip, Bailey says no. It causes her anxiety because her father died while he was traveling when she was young. They often argue because Cory feels like Bailey is holding him back from seeing the world, and Bailey feels like Cory is insensitive to her traumatic past.

In order to make progress in resolving this perpetual problem, Bailey and Cory need to have a conversation about the underlying reasons why these strong feelings come up for each of them.

Once Bailey thinks about it, she can admit that the reason why she is so scared of traveling is because she is afraid of losing Cory. She is worried that the unexpected loss of her dad might repeat and she could lose Cory unexpectedly. She is scared of traveling because she needs security and feels the most security when Cory is safe at home. The thought of him going on a trip far away brings up fear and anxiety.

On the other hand, if Cory thought about it, he could share with Bailey that he feels complacent and unsatisfied with his life and is wondering what the rest of the world has to offer. He really values happiness and achievement, and he feels like he cannot achieve those things at home.

Now that Bailey and Cory are having a conversation about security versus achievement, a compromise can be made – whereas there was no compromise between whether to travel or not travel.

In this example, maybe Bailey and Cory decided that they would go on one trip together a year, but Bailey was able to decide how and where they were going to travel. That way, Bailey can stay with Cory and see that he is safe. Also, Cory now has the opportunity to work on reaching his dream of achievement by exploring new parts of the world. This helps their relationship because they each feel respected, understood, and heard.

Getting to the bottom of perpetual problems

Here is a list of some underlying reasons that may drive perpetual problems. Please note that this list is not comprehensive! It is here to serve as a tool for you and your partner to begin thinking about the underlying reasons behind your own perpetual conflict(s).

  • Freedom
  • Justice
  • Honesty
  • Adventure
  • Spiritual peace
  • Healing
  • Power
  • Security
  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Achievement
  • Competition
  • Femininity/Masculinity
  • Comfort

If you and your partner want to make perpetual problems a way to connect even more with each other, think about the stories behind why these reasons are so important to each of you. Think of events that have happened in your life that have influenced who you are.

Then, most importantly – share these events, feelings, and stories with your partner!

Our Greenwood Village couples counselors are here to support you and your partner in managing all conflict – solvable or perpetual! Give us a call or schedule online to connect with us.

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