The Merry-go-round Fights

Scenario 1: Bill said he would be home for dinner at 7:00. He gets tied up with a client at work and forgets to phone Susan. He arrives home tired and hungry at 9:00 pm. Susan is upset. She asks, “Why didn’t you call and let me know?” Susan feels unimportant not not considered. Bill feels justified, he was working hard for his family. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 2: Bill takes the kids for a hike. They have a great day and are gone longer than intended. They are expected at Susan’s parents for dinner. When they get home they all need to get cleaned up. They are tired and cranky. They are late getting to her parents. Susan feels stressed. She’s angry at Bill for taking so long. Bill feels unjustly criticized, he was being a good dad. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 3: Bill and Susan go to a party with friends. About an hour and a half into the party Susan is looking for Bill and cannot find him anywhere. She asks around but no one has seen him. Another hour later Bill comes back with his friend who had also been at the party. Bill tells Susan that his friend asked for his advice about his car and they had been out back tinkering with it. Susan feels alone. Bill feels justified, he was being helpful. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 4: Bill and Susan have friends over for dinner. Bill is a great host. But, as soon as the guests walk in the door Susan feels that he is treating her and the children differently – like they don’t matter. Susan feels like she and the children are second class citizens. Bill feels unjustifiably accused. He was being a good host. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario: xxx: They fight about it but do not resolve.

Couples have differences. There are always problems to address. Couples discuss. They fight. Early in a relationship when an issue comes up, a couple will take it on, discuss it, argue and fight about it. Each tries to get his or her view point across to the other. Each tries to resolve it. Lots of times they are able to resolve it, sometimes in a healthy way, sometimes in an unhealthy way. But other times they are not able to get to a workable outcome. When this happens the issue gets dropped and some how the couple get over it or beyond it. Then the next problem comes up and the same thing happens. Each tries to resolve it yet neither are able to. It does not go away, it just goes under the carpet. This happens over and over again. There is a building of unresolved issues. There is a backlog of hurt and resentment.

I call these fights the Merry-go-round fights. It’s like riding a merry-go-round at the amusement park. An issue comes up. Couples jump on the merry-go-round. They go round and round. They go up and down. And, when they get off they are in exactly the same spot as they were before they got on. Nothing has changed. Neither feels good.

The next issue comes up. Again, they hop on the merry-go-round. They go round and round. They go up and down. When they get off, they are still in the same place. This pattern repeats again and again.

At first, couples are eager to hop on the merry-go-round. They are eager to resolve the issues. They care about each other. They have lots of energy for it. They try hard. Then they try harder. Yet, they are still unable to resolve. It does not seem to matter how hard they try. The rides usually escalate and get longer and more difficult. Eventually, one gets tired of going on the merry-go-round. An issue or problem will come up and one wants to fight, the other doesn’t. What for? He or she knows that they will go for a ride and nothing will change. When the ride is over they get off at the same place once gain. There is no point. Why waste the energy? They don’t want to waste the time. No one wants to fight until three in the morning and not get anywhere, especially if they have to go to work the next day. Both just feel worse – discouraged and hopeless. Eventually, neither wants to fight. The couple gradually falls into a funk and disconnect from each other. Over time the relationship goes numb or dead. Couples may stay together this way or they may break up.

Healthy couples are able to find a way to resolve their issues and problems. They listen to each others concerns and complaints. They are willing to see their partner’s point of view. They are open to seeing things from a different perspective. They brainstorm possible solutions and come up with changes to try. Then each make changes. They keep what works. They discard what doesn’t. They fine tune the changes until they are mutually satisfied with the results. Then they feel good about what they achieved together. They feel like a team working well together. The fight may have been difficult but it is productive. They are in a new better place! The fight was worth the time and energy. The couple feel connected to each other. They have developed a good working relationship. Partners who feel good about each other are more easily able to resolve issues.

No more merry-go-round rides!

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

One Response to “The Merry-go-round Fights”

  1. Tina Russell says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tina Russell