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Why do couples argue? The most common answer.

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Article by Robert McInnes

Why do couples argue?

After counselling couples using Cognitive Principle Therapy for over six years the largest response to my question to the arguing couple of “What started the argument?” is one or both partners repeating the same question to the other partner.

The reason for their response is because arguing on most occasions, it is not about behaviour, but the breakdown in an underlying principle, namely, love, trust, respect, acceptance or commitment.

If you understand how the subconscious mind works then it is logical how the above question arises.

Firstly the sub-consious mind operates on habits. Habits are formed and stored in emotional order, not in time order. Therefore, any past unresolved issue related to the principles mentioned above, either before or after you met your partner will be stored, by subject, in emotional order. Therefore 50% of your response can be related to the past and not the present behaviour.

Secondly, various studies for over 40 years have shown that if you go over something in your conscious mind, visualize it and generate the same emotion as the actual event, then your subconscious mind accepts that as the truth. If you think about how many times you have gone over an annoying behaviour in your head, you can understand that 40% of your response could be false because it is self-generated.

Thirdly, the subconscious mind has no logic, it is a patterning system which both finds things and predicts things based on patterns, but is driven by emotions. It operates one million times faster than your conscious mind, which is slow because it uses logic.

If you accept the above three factors, then it is logical why a small negative behaviour will trigger a big emotional response, which will be based on the past, be false and be predicted based on the same patterns of arguments that happened last time. Therefore up to 90% of your response could be inappropriate related to the triggering event.

In Cognitive Principle Therapy there are a number of ways of preventing this happening:

Firstly, being aware of the above factors and the responses of the subconscious mind.

Secondly, do not use logic against someone in a patterning system (bad habit) because there is no logic there and the person already knows your logic statement to be true in most cases, but they do not know how to control it. For example, don’t say to the angry person to calm down, they already know that, what they don’t know is how to calm down. You only will make them feel guilty for not calming down, which will make them angry at you for pointing out their weakness.

[Note: This does not mean you accept their behaviour. After they have calmed down, even if it is the next day or a week later, you then use assertiveness to point out what there behaviour felt like and why you want it to stop]

Thirdly, you follow the cognitive principle of “splitting the person from the behaviour”. That is, in positive situations praise the person, but in negative situations criticize the behaviour, not the person. Likewise, don’t take it personally. Deal with it through consequences, which are fair, appropriate, escalating and acted on to shut down future bad behaviour.

Fourthly, renegotiate the rules, boundaries and consequences related to the principle under attack. For example, if you are disrespected by being shut-down and not listened to, then state that you want to be heard and how you would like that to happen, and also, what the consequences will be if you are not heard.

[Note: In most abusive relationships, this step needs to be conducted in the safety of a counselling session. The abuser needs to understand what and why their behaviour needs to change and  how to reduce their anger using techniques,  such as the “Stop, Find method”# The person being abused needs to be shown in the counselling session, how rules, boundaries and consequences are negotiated and how principles such as courage, assertiveness and persistence are developed.]

# The “Stop, Find method” [TM] can be found on the website:

21 Oct 2012

Article/Information supplied by Robert McInnes

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.