Have you ever found yourself in an argument with your partner about something that seems trivial, on the surface, but does not feel trivial? Perhaps it starts as a discussion over how you keep the house clean or who is cooking dinner tonight, but what starts as a discussion escalates into an argument. Without some sort of relationship repair from these arguments, we are not usually left feeling good about ourselves or the relationship, often feeling disconnected from each other and frustrated. Part of what happens that turns a discussion into an argument has to do with self-perception. We are operating in these moments with some sort of negative perception of self that is becoming activated, under the surface of the argument, and can become a powerful motivator to fueling the fire of the argument.
Self-perception is how we view ourselves/what kind of person we think ourselves to be. It is often unconscious and becomes more apparent, with some self-reflection, within the context of a relationship, whether that be in moments of connection or moments of tension or struggle. We might not walk around, for example, thinking about ourselves as a good person until we perhaps perceive ourselves treating somebody kindly or responding to a difficult situation with patience. Likewise, we might not be aware that we perceive ourselves as “not good enough” until we get in an argument with someone and perceive the other as somehow better than us and find ourselves lacking.
Self-perception is part of what fuels those “trivial” conflicts we find ourselves in with somebody. We get in an argument about washing the dishes because we perceive the lack of help from a partner means that we are not quite worth their extra attention or time. We get in an argument about the text our partner did not return quickly enough because we feel unimportant in the relationship. We get angry or depressed about our partner’s chaotic work schedule because we are feeling less valued as a partner in the relationship. In order to work through moments of relationship tension or struggle differently, it is important to start reflecting on the perception of self that is getting activated when in an argument or an escalated conversation. Once we become more aware of this perception, we have the ability to talk about it with our partner and really open up a different conversation. The conversation might bring about a greater sense of connection and understanding which can lead to better outcomes in the future or quicker “repair” after an argument, or it might lead to a difficult, more vulnerable conversation. In either scenario, starting to discuss what we perceive ourselves to mean to the other when moments of tension or disconnection are present, allows us to have more honest, vulnerable, and open conversations in a relationship.