To say that he’d heard it before was an understatement: he’d heard her say “you never want to do the things I like to do” so many times, he’d started tracking how often she’d say it each week. He kept an inconspicuous tally on the notes section background on his phone and reported a grim satisfaction each time she accused him of not wanting to attend a family gathering or for not arranging dinner out with friends. When he called her on this – bringing up recent instances where he’d made the plans or attended the function – she’d negate them, an instant shut down of his irrefutable proof that, while it might have been true once that they didn’t do ‘her’ things, they did now.
Why do we get hung up on old arguments? What ties us to past truths and makes it so difficult to change our thinking around newness? It’s probably not that we’re really committed to our partners being wrong all the time – most couples report greater happiness when they believe and support one another. It’s also an unlikely scenario that the reported behavior change isn’t actually in effect, and really, our partner has just found new ways to do the annoying thing they’ve always done.
So what if it’s simply fear that – now that we’ve solved this one issue – there might be other, scarier/weirder/more complex issues to face? That ultimately, the demons you know are easier to live with than the one’s you’ve yet to come across.
This plays out in multiple scenarios outside romantic relationships: it’s easy to say ‘let’s stop world hunger’, as an example. We have a surplus of food thrown away at grocery stores every day, let’s give it to hungry people. Simple solution, right? It gets complicated quickly though: which hungry people? Who collects the food? Who distributes the food? How does the grocery store decide what is good enough to keep, give away or insist on throwing away? If they’re wrong, and someone gets sick, who is at fault? What about instances when someone cheats the system?
Most of us read an example like the one above and feel a series of feelings: frustration, anger, or exasperation just to begin with. After all – you just wanted to feed the hungry! We wanted the solution to be simple and find that the problem is so big, that we might never do more than make the smallest of dents in the problem. Extrapolate to issues surrounding intimacy or romance, and we might indeed cling to old arguments – the pain you know might truly be greater than the one just being discovered.
For couples going through this, it can be helpful to think of it as a shared experience: a mental ‘we disagree about this issue, but if we can solve
it, we’ve experienced successful problem solving together’. What else might you collectively tackle knowing you’re already skilled at collaboration?