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Tis the Season (For Fighting With Your Partner)

santaYes, it can be the most wonderful time of the year.  It can also be the most stressful.  With stress can come irritability, and it can mean conflict with your partner just when you need his or her love and support the most.

I’ve got some ideas for how to pull out of this damaging cycle, so you can enjoy each other and the holidays. 1)  Start by recognizing what the cycle is.

Couples tend to get into repetitive patterns.  Even though they know, on some level, that it never works when they say things a certain way because their partner gets defensive, and around and around they go–still, it’s hard to resist the pull.  We tend to want to do things the way we’ve done them a million times before, even when it’s unsuccessful.

In times of stress, this is doubly true.  We’re under stress, so we go to our default positions.

Often, that means conflict.

So step back (when you’re not actually in the cycle so the emotions aren’t running hot), and think about what your cycle is.  It’ll look something like: You do this, he or she does this in response, then you do this, etc.

2)  Once you see the cycle, recognize your part in it.

Negative cycles are not one person’s fault.  Both people are participants, and thus, both are at fault to a certain degree.  If you keep doing the same things over and over, regardless of how your partner responds, then you’re part of the problem.

The good news is, if you’re part of the problem, you can be part of the solution.  Blaming your partner might feel good for a moment, but it renders you powerless to enact any change.

If you take a different step in the dance, your partner will likely follow.

3)  Talk to your partner about how you see the cycle and your role.

If you’re open about why you’re partially responsible, your partner will be much more likely to own their part.  Then the two of you can come up with ideas of how to avoid doing the same old dance.

4)  Realize how important your partner is to you when you’re under stress.

There are a number of studies that say securely attached couples handle stress better than insecurely attached.  What’s a secure attachment?  It’s an emotional bond that we can rely on.  You know you’re securely attached if you can say, with certainty, “When I’m struggling, my partner will be there for me, 100%.”

Insecure attachment (predictably) leads to personal insecurity and relationship insecurity.  It means that you feel like you’re going it alone in life.  So even though you technically have a partner, it doesn’t often feel that way.

But if you are securely attached, be grateful for that.  And recognize the things you do that might undermine that attachment, and make some changes.

5)  If you’re insecurely attached, start talking to your partner about why you feel that way.  See what you can do about it.  If it’s not changing after some time and conversations, you might want to involve a professional.  Emotionally focused therapy is a type of couples therapy that addresses the attachment bond directly, and is well-supported by research.

Hope this helps, and happy holidays!

Couple arguing image available from Shutterstock.

Tis the Season (For Fighting With Your Partner)

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2018). Tis the Season (For Fighting With Your Partner). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Jan 2018
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