“Missing The Real Issue” Fights
Or maybe you seem to be having a circular, infinity fight, a fight that doesn’t really go anywhere or come to a long-term resolution.
I call those “missing the real issue fights” and I know they’re pretty common out there in the often-murky world of human communication.
It might look something like: you feel upset and you know that in the beginning, you had a point that was worth standing up for. However the further you got into the conversation you lost track of what your point actually was.
I’ve seen this a lot in my practice. A client will come to a session and be really upset about something. They will be upset about something like:
- “They didn’t call me back!”
- “They should have told me sooner!”
- “They threw me under the bus!”
Those perspectives or views of a situation are usually indicative of a “missing the real issue fight” in the works.
How can you tell?
When you look, you can see that these situations and others like them stem from an expectation or assumption at play that isn’t being met or satisfied. What is clear from the outside perspective is that the fight is really about an insecurity that is being triggered.
Let me explain a little further… If we look at the example of “They didn’t call me back!” it’s easy to see there was an expectation that someone was going to return a phone call within a certain timeframe and they failed to do so. Whether the other person agreed to return the call within a specific timeframe or not is irrelevant to this part of the communication conversation. The point (for this conversation) is that a call wasn’t returned within an expected timeframe and that made the original caller upset.
The thing is, that’s not even the key issue. The key issue is why the original caller got upset. They didn’t get upset about the call not being returned on time, they got upset because of what they made the call not being returned on time ‘mean’.
When someone doesn’t do something you’re expecting them to do and you have a negative reaction to it, that’s because you made what they did mean something – likely about you, your relationship with them, or how they feel about you. Some common (unconscious) meanings that get applied to things like this include:
- You don’t care about/ respect me
- I don’t matter to you/ I’m not important to you
- This relationship is unimportant to you
If you weren’t unconsciously making up a meaning like that, you wouldn’t be reacting. If you were making up a meaning like: “they must have gotten busy with something else” or “maybe they’re in trouble” or “maybe something happened to them” you wouldn’t have the negative reaction.
Bottom line, if you’re having a negative reaction to something, it’s because of the meaning you’re making up about the situation or what happened.
That’s why you end up having “missing the issue fights” when you try to deal with this surface issue of the unmet expectation of the unreturned phone call. If the person says “sorry, I’ll never do it again” that’s unlikely to make you feel any better. You need to talk about the real problem which is you feel like you don’t matter to them, or you’re unimportant, or that they take the relationship for granted.
That’s the real issue, and that’s what needs to get aired out.
If you want to stop having dramatic circular fights in your life, you need to start addressing the triggered insecurity. Unfortunately, we often don’t want to look at or acknowledge that we have insecurities or ‘issues’, let alone specifically identify them and bring them to light.
I promise you that no matter what, fighting about the surface issue of the unreturned phone call won’t get you closer to finding resolution when the real issue is how you feel! In reality, you’re not actually upset about them not calling you back, you’re upset about how the unreturned phone call made you feel.
Where do I start?
An easy way to move forward out of a “missing the real issue fight” and get rid of any residual resentment from not having your real needs met is to follow this quick process:
1 – As soon as you notice you’re not totally clear on what the fight or heated discussion is about anymore, STOP the conversation.
2 – Tell the person that you’re in the “missing the real issue fight” with that you just figured out you’re not dealing with the real issue, that you need a moment to check in with yourself so you can get to the point, clean this up, and move on.
3 – Ask yourself “What do I need to hear right now that would enable me to totally drop this?” Usually, the first thing that comes to mind will be a good indicator of what’s actually going on for you, which insecurity is being triggered.
4 – Take a deep breath and tell them what you think the real issue is: “When you did/said ________________ I jumped to the conclusion that you didn’t _____________ (value/ respect/ love/ care you fill in the appropriate adjective here) about me. So what I really need now is to clarify that.”
5 – Be open! Be open to whatever you get back, there may be some really great feedback for you as well as increasing the intimacy and trust of the relationship.
This is a trust-building exercise of sorts… You’ll have to trust them to deal with you in a respectful manner and you’ll have to trust yourself to pinpoint the real issue; if you can’t tell yourself the truth about an insecurity then you’ll never be able to get any power over it.
Until next time,
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