Why Couples Can’t Remember What Started An Argument

Often in session, we hear couples say, “We had a huge argument but can’t even remember what started it.” They’ll let us know it was a big blowout but can’t recall the beginning. As a couple's therapist (and spouse for 25 years), I know why this is: you didn’t stick to the topic that started the conversation.

It’s human nature to think of related things but it takes a lot of self-discipline not to voice them. In conversation, we recall past occurrences, objections, other examples and people who are on our side. Our brains are firing with various thoughts – all of which seem like they pertain to the original issue. Our partner’s brain is doing the same thing, we volley off each other’s thoughts and pretty quickly you’re onto something else, often something more heated and emotional.

Here's what we teach couples in private therapy: Identify the topic for this dialogue and stick to it! Choose one, uno, un, En, Jedna, واحد, Een, isa, אחד, एक, Један, Satu, Bir (am I making myself clear?) topic. The reason for this is twofold. First, in one sitting, you can only get through one medium or large-sized topic. It takes time for thoughts to become clear, to find a way to verbalize them, to make sure it came across as intended, to clarify for your partner, and so on. And this takes double the time because all these things need to happen for both persons. Second, as I said earlier, our monkey minds grab onto a related topic and lead from one thing to the next. Before we know it, we’re onto a very different subject.

Resist the urge to verbalize every thought if it’s not directly related to the original topic. If you were to say out loud every thought that came to mind, this raises the chance for an argument to start. It’s exactly why couples say “We had a huge argument but can’t even remember what started it.” So, stick to one topic only. If someone does refer to something else, respond with “I know that’s an item to discuss later, but for now, let’s stick to the original topic.” There will be another time to tackle another item. For now, give the first item the chance to be discussed calmly and thoroughly and without extra complications. Staying on the original topic is a crucial communication tool.

If you and your partner are struggling to stay on topic and this is affecting your relationship, contact us. We are here to help you and your partner learn how to better communicate. Reach out to get help by calling us at 908-246-3074 or emailing getsupport@couplestherapycenterofnj.com to schedule an individual or couples appointment.

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