Conflicts and differing points of view in relationships are natural and normal; fighting and arguing are optional.
Differences are inevitable in relationships. Before we become an “us,” we originate with “I,” individuals that carry a past of previous relationships, preferences, and communication styles. Whether it be how you like your coffee or how you spend your money, you’re going to have conflicting perspectives and behaviors from your partner. The goal is not to eradicate the differences but to move from a position of gridlock to dialogue.
Conflicts are like icebergs. Escalations about the dishes are not really about the dishes, they’re about the feeling disrespected or unimportant by a lack of action or appreciation. Listed below are 13 of the most common topics of arguments in relationships and how you can navigate them by choosing conversation over conflict.
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- Household Responsibilities
- Alone Time
- Communication Styles
- Handling Emotions
- Sex /Intimacy
- Lack of Affection
- Decision Making
- Lack of Attention
- Work/Life balance
Cohabiting means co-cleaning and co-providing the means of the partnership and its livelihood. Generally, it’s not about the dirty dishes. But you can make sure it’s not by keeping your space clean collaboratively. Make a system with intentional delegation and appreciation. Focus on each partner’s strengths and preferences when dividing the responsibilities and be aware of fairness during distribution. Discuss each other’s standards and expectations to reduce tensions or resentments. Chore charts are not just for kids! Utilize your resources with shared virtual tasks lists or physical calendars. You can also plan shared cleaning times to divide and conquer!
Every healthy relationship needs a balance of time together and time away from each other. We may not always enjoy the same hobbies or interests, but this doesn’t mean you have to go without them! Individual activities benefit the relationship because it provides independence, mystery, and availability to have conversations about your differing experiences when you come back together. If you’re feeling you need more solo TLC, let your partner know and plan some time for you. On the other hand if you’re feeling alone in your relationship, you may need to examine why and discuss it with your partner.
Poor communication is the number one reason why partners engage in marriage counseling. Renowned researcher and psychotherapist Dr. John Gottman tells couples to be wary of four specific types of negative communication: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. He aptly titles these behaviors as the “four horsemen” because they predict the apocalypse of the relationship. Avoid these horsemen by using kind and compassionate language with your partner and ask for elaboration and clarification to prevent misunderstandings. Take notice of any uncomfortable body language, harmful tone of voice, or confusing facial expressions and bring them up when possible. You can keep conflict calm by respecting your partner and using intentional understanding to strengthen connection.
Emotional insight and understanding exist on a broad spectrum. A simple frown could indicate sadness, contempt, or even embarrassment. Because of these complex ways we express ourselves, it can take a great deal of time and patience to see, sense, and attune to your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Healthy relationships handle emotions with curiosity and compassion. Try to avoid assuming or labeling your partner’s emotions and use open-ended questions to allow them to describe their experience and perspective. Express appropriate empathy and show appreciation when your partner shares their inner world to build a stronger connection and environment of safety for vulnerability. Create an atmosphere of harmony by practicing being calm together by engaging in meditation or deep-breathing exercises. If escalations occur, use independent and collaborative self-soothing skills and techniques to move forward towards a more balanced repair.
Sex / Intimacy
Romantic relationships are distinctive from friendships because they include sex and intimacy. The best way to avoid arguments about bedroom activities? Sex is important in most relationships, so communicate about your sex life! Ask your partner open-ended questions about their sex drive, desires, and preferences. Check-in with yourself and with your partner’s physical and mental well-being before initiating sex. Is anyone tired? Hungry? Distracted? Try to eat a snack or use a coping skill to help equalize. Embarrassed about performance? Explore alternative forms of intimacy like foreplay, massages, or somatic touch to bring you closer together without the pressure or expectations of sexual intercourse.
Insecurities, failure to meet expectations or even close connections with others can lead to jealous thoughts and behaviors. Partners may also experience retroactive jealousy over past relationships. Arguments over jealousy can quickly escalate because there is fear of losing the other person. However, accusations and insults will result in resentments and contempt in your relationship, which can inevitably lead to its demise. Detective work, such as checking messages and emails, has no healthy function. You will either be disappointed that you didn’t find something to confirm your suspicions or broken-hearted if you do.
Instead, have a conversation with your partner if something is feeling off. Build trust by being open and honest about any concerns. Try to avoid immediate defensiveness by listening to your partner’s worries and using transparency in your explanations and perspective. Reassure your commitment and love for one another by taking time to talk about the specifics of why you love each other and why you continue to choose the other person as your partner.
Lack of Affection
The best way to avoid arguing about a lack of affection is by talking about your needs and expectations. Do you like to cuddle? How often? Are you comfortable with public displays of affection? How much is too much? What are your current rituals of connection, and how often are you engaging in them? Do you kiss each other daily before parting or embrace with hugs on return? Explore eachothers love languages. Discuss desired frequencies and durations and be specific about what you need. Be honest about your comfortability level and use clear examples of any behaviors that didn’t feel right so that your partner can change their tactics and attune to you. By making intentional time to create plans of action collaboratively, you build a healthy balance of affection together so that each partner feels seen, heard, loved, and appreciated.
Making decisions is not always easy, especially if there are high risks or rewards. Some choices, like what to eat for dinner or where to put the couch, may not have dire consequences but can still feel paralyzing due to fear of ruining the evening with a wrong choice or disrupting the home’s feng shui. Discuss decision-making styles and preferences with your partner to understand how each of you approaches costs and benefits. Where do you feel you may need more or less support or input from your partner? While some couples may enjoy making decisions together, others may prefer to do quiet decision-making in their heads. Talk about your expectations of handling situations together to discover similarities and differences and utilize each other’s strengths in your methods.
You’ve heard it before, money is the root of all evil, especially in relationships. Money significantly affects our livelihoods, so knowing how your partner manages or mismanages their finances is vital. Some financial arguments may be rooted in shame or embarrassment from unrealistic expectations or a history of poor spending habits, so try to approach the topic with sincerity and compassion.
Unfortunately, we do not receive a full-proof handbook for successful money management and financial growth. However, one partner may have more experience or knowledge of the financial world. Discuss each other’s habits and strengths to learn how to work together to produce a fruitful future. Who is better at saving? Who has more money knowledge? Make sure to discuss crucial money matters like renovations, continuing education, or obtaining additional assets so that you can be on the same page with each other and know where the money’s going.
Lack of Attention
We want to be noticed and heard by our partners, and when we think there is a lack, we feel unimportant or unneeded. Just like affection, attention also carries expectations and preferences for frequency and duration. Talk with your partner about your needs and how you prefer to be attended to. What are your expectations during conversations? How can you be clear you’d like to remove distractions and talk?
Notice moments when you or your partner’s capacity is low and utilize body scans to check in on hunger, fatigue, and stress levels. Take a practical approach with situational scans. Is there something else going on that can be taking the focus away from connection? Are there any visible or audible distractions? Upset or disgruntled kiddos or pets? Upcoming deadlines or poor weather? Remove the barriers to your connections and be intentional about spending quality together to alleviate any felt disconnection.
Friends / Family
Social circles and family members, chosen or given, are extensions of our preferences and history. We want our partners to like our friends and families, but that does not always happen. Partners may be concerned about differing lifestyles choices, feeling threatened by time allowances, or can even experience sadness from unattainable expectations. Conflicts within a partner’s family or social circles can cause frustration, isolation and may even lead to resentment.
Are you feeling uncomfortable with a specific member of your partner’s world? Talk about your concerns and give your partner time to provide explanations, assurances, and validation where possible. Do you feel an inequality in quality time? Discuss boundaries and frequency of interactions with each other’s family and friends. How often would you like to see your friends independently and together? What are the expectations for attending events and holidays? Talk about how and where each of you can integrate into your social worlds.
Work / Life Balance
In the age of self-care, we still struggle with finding the time and space to relax and recharge. Whether you work to live or live to work, you need a healthy balance to function. Stress, priorities, and circumstances change, so it’s essential to routinely check your physical, mental, and emotional well-being and evaluate and explore opportunities for healthy recalibration and flexibility. Making dedicated quality time to your care will strengthen your relationship by providing you with a more balanced well-being when you’re with your partner. Discuss work/life balances with each other and talk about where you fit into the other’s world or if you’re feeling left out. Plan intentional time to unwind and unplug from rigid roles and responsibilities by engaging in relaxation exercises and creating calm surroundings to encourage a more relaxed environment when you’re together.
Kiddos can be sources of conflict before they even enter the family unit from the first discussion of preferences for or against them. When should we have kids? How many? What should their names be? Parenting is at the top of the list of issues couples argue about because it is constant and unpredictable. When there’s a lack of communication on parenting, everyone suffers. Parenting takes teamwork, so it’s crucial to discuss your styles and systems collaboratively to create a unified front, especially when the kids try to deviate punishments or persuade treats.
One of the main arguments parents will have over their children is the distribution of discipline. Usually, one parent will not want to be the “bad guy” and may give in to prevent discomfort. While this may feel good, you, unfortunately, leave your partner in a horrible situation to clean up. Talk openly and honestly about your needs, feelings, and ideas with your partner, and consider a family therapist if you think you could benefit from additional parenting skills and coaching.
When to Call in the Counselor
Take notice of the recurring conflicts and disagreements that come up in your relationship, and be curious about the factors that may be contributing to your differing perspectives and reactions. If you want to get to resolve, listen, validate, and try to find even something small to agree with. It’s common to be irritated by the petty stuff, but if you have perpetual disagreements that lead to emotional eruptions and conflict, it could be beneficial to meet with a couple’s therapist to assist in navigating through to stronger connect, resolution, and repair.
Another option is to take preemptive steps to avoid future conflict by working with a premarital counselor.