Counterfeit conflicts are the result of developmentally stuck places from childhood. Both people are reacting out of hardwired nervous system responses to earlier hurt, trauma, or neglect. When we yell at our partner for being late, it's a displaced scream at a mother who was unreliable. We panic when our partner withdraws and rushes in to "find out what's wrong" or "get him to talk." When I've helped people track the source of these eruptions of emotions, we inevitably find the roots in childhood losses, trauma, or neglect that resulted in beliefs of being unlovable, unseen, or inadequate.
For example, Mary felt panic whenever her partner withdrew. We traced it back to a time when, as a little girl, she found her mother lying on the couch, passed out from drinking. Mary thought she was dead. As we cleared this old trauma, she no longer had a panic reaction when her husband withdrew. She didn't like it, but she could express her feelings as an adult, saying, "I don't like it when you blank out and refuse to talk." She could then go about her day without obsessing about it.
Couples who find themselves in repetitive fights that reflect childlike states -- "Don't tell me what to do," "Don't leave me" -- often need individual psychotherapy to clear the source of these automatic reactions. Rumi writes, "Show me the way to the ocean, break these small containers." With that sentiment in mind, here are some steps to help us break free of the small containers that keep us stuck in repetitive counterfeit arguments.