The typical argument a couple has greatly depends on the length of time married. For example a newly married couple will argue about different things than a couple who’s been married 20 years. I’ve listed the top five issues couples normally argue about below, based on a survey completed before they start marriage counseling. However as a counselor, I know that the information written on the survey form is the “politically correct” version of their relationship issues. Most people are not skilled in expressing what they want, they fight about other “important” issues.
The Top 5 Things Couples Argue About Are:
- Finances & Money
Relatives. Perhaps you like her sister a little too much. Or perhaps your mother thinks she’s not good enough for you. Or perhaps her father is a dickhead but she has failed to realise it and thinks he’s Atticus Finch. The gap between your own perceptions of your family and your partner’s is usually considerable. Also, the way your parents relate will have provided you with a template, consciously or unconsciously, for the way you relate. Truth is, there’s no getting away from relatives, even when they’re hundreds of miles away. If you are in a melded family, take all these difficulties and multiply them by 10.
Money. Money is often a reflection of personal values around security, freedom, generosity and lifestyle. If you both differ on how to spend money, then without some frank discussion and negotiation, it can lead to catastrophic fights … and ones that only repeat themselves throughout the years.
If you find yourselves arguing about money, rather than focus on the dollar amounts and items that were purchased, sit down and talk about how you each feel about money and what having money and not having enough money means to you. Once you talk more generally, you’ll be better able to get past the triggers and negotiate strategies that work for both of you.
Who decides what’s best for the children. If you have a family, a large number of arguments are about the right way of bringing up the kids. Once upon a time it was clear – it was the mother. Or the father, depending on which era you choose. Now it’s anybody’s guess. Of course one can try quiet, rational negotiation between two adults leading to a sensible mutual outcome. Or one can ask a magic fairy to intervene. Either are equally likely.
Time. You know The Rolling Stones old tune, Time Is on My Side? Well, it’s wrong. Time is typically the thief of family harmony. Couples fight all the time for a stake in how the 24 hours are divvied up. Instead of fighting, join forces. “Okay, here’s the day/week/vacation, let’s figure out how to make it work for us.”
As people change over time, their desires change, and couples sometimes have a difficult time discussing their sexual and intimacy needs because they are shy, embarrassed or plain think their partner should just know what they want and need. The reality is that men and women of all ages have a fluctuating libido – that’s natural – and almost every life factor you can think of will affect it, from stress to diet to quality of sleep, and how connected you feel to one another.
Establishing how much affection and sex you both want is important because each of those may very well be quite different for each of you and if your needs don’t get met, unhappiness results, and a recipe for conflict forms. Work out how much loving touch, lustful touch and climactic time you each want to share and then negotiate to meet in the middle so that you both can be happy.
What is behind the argument?
This is the hardest one, but the most important. Sometimes there are underlying issues beneath the gridlocked issue. I want you to think about what’s happening behind the argument. Are there value-based differences?
You might actually be arguing about basic philosophical concepts like someone’s sense of self, power, freedom, care, what family means, what home means or control. Look at your gridlocked issue and ask the question “Why?” 5 times. *Be sure to get buy-in to do this from both people, so it is exploratory not antagonistic.
- Wife: I am very upset right now.
- Man: Why?
- Wife: I need more help around the house.
- Man: Why do you feel that way?
- Wife: I feel overworked and overwhelmed with the stuff that needs to be done.
- Man: Why do you feel overwhelmed?
- Wife: It just feels like it all lands on me at the end of the day.
- Man: Why do you feel it all lands on you?
- Wife: I don’t see you offering to help and that makes me frustrated.
- Man: Why does that happen?
- Wife: It makes me feel under-appreciated.
Ok, now they are onto something! Yes, help around the house is great, but it all boils down to feeling under appreciated. If the husband were to make the wife feel more appreciated—perhaps thanking her for what has already been done, that might be even more beneficial than helping. Combining help and gratitude could be the ultimate healer in this fight.
Is it ok to “Agree to Disagree?”
Knowing your issues and where you stand can help prevent you from having the argument over and over again. Agreeing to disagree and naming the issue can prevent arguments in the future.
For example, I was walking a couple through this exercise and this process happened:
- Common Issue: Vacationing with the in-laws. Husband doesn’t like to vacation with his in-laws, Wife does.
- Localize: Trip to Hawaii over Thanksgiving
- Agreement: We both know we need a vacation and we are due for an in-law visit.
- Why’s: Wife learns that the reason Husband doesn’t like to vacation with the in-laws has nothing to do with them. He loves the in-laws! But he wants more couple time. “We are so busy during the work week that our vacations are the only alone time we get together.”
- Acceptance: This is a difference in preference—it is not an attack on the in-laws or a desire not to vacation together. A possible compromise to recognize the underlying need for alone time could be to go on vacation a few days early before the in-laws arrive.
Start with Agreement
If a gridlocked issue comes up on a daily basis and you need to approach it, start with agreement. Dr. Gottman noticed that successful couples who have been together for a long time master gentleness. They present issues in a soft way by never starting with criticism. In fact, starting with agreement is the best way to avoid an argument and start a discussion. Find something you can agree upon and start there.
- For example, if you have family coming in for the weekend and Wife wants a hotel, but Husband wants house-guests, Wife could say, “I know we can agree that family time is important and I know we can both get a little annoyed when we are overrun with nieces and nephews. Let’s try to think of a way to make this weekend work.”