Marriage Arguments: Fighting About Little Things Can Mean a Lot
Arguments about small things are a signal that it’s time to find the big issues and firmly, but lovingly put an end to them.
When I was working on my degree in clinical psychology, I lived in a small apartment with paper thin walls in Vista, California.
The neighbors who lived on the west side of my apartment were a young couple in their twenties. To say that their relationship had problems is like saying if you fall into Niagara Falls you will get a little wet. Their marriage arguments were hard to drown out with my TV.
When they were mad at each other, there was constant shouting and when they were very mad with each other, there was complete silence.
Being their neighbor rather than their counselor, I found myself hoping they would be very mad at each other so that I could have some peace and quiet in my own apartment.
The interesting thing was that when they were shouting at each other, they were always blaming each other for things that did not seem to be very important.
In the time it takes to drive to the store and buy a whole cart load of groceries, the husband could repeatedly blame his wifeВ for forgetting to buy the milk and always forgetting things, while the wife could spend the entire time blaming her husbandВ for always expecting her to be a mind reader.
Why would a couple spend so much time blaming each other for small things?
It certainly wasn’t helping their relationship and it wasn’t really fixing their problems. I got the answer one day when I noticed that a woman would sometimes visit their apartment while the wife was working. The husband’s routine with this "guest" seemed quite different from that with his wife and from the sound of things, they had quite a good time.
Sometimes fighting about things creates an emotional distance that people actually want.
It is very hard for the average human being to cheat on someone he has a good relationship with. But if the relationship is not so good, if there is something to hold against his wife, then it becomes easier to rationalize his (or her) behavior, like having an affair.
Marriage arguments are also common from people who are having difficulty being committed to their spouse for other reasons.
Sometimes when people firstВ commit to a relationship, it’s not done wholeheartedly, and even after the marriage ceremony there remains much doubt. Emotional distancing can be a way of trying to hold on to independence and individuality even while married.В This is common for people who marry very young or when people marry after having been single for most of their life.В And people who were previously committed toВ their relationship may push away if they feel they are being controlled by their husband or wife.
Emotional distancing can also be used to rationalize heavy drinking, drug abuse, computer gaming, pornography addictions, and other harmful behaviors.
A close relationship would take away the person’s excuse to behave this way. Does your spouse blame you for everything? See this for what it is–a defensive reaction to shift attention away from your partner’s problems. Of course you are not to blame for your husband’s or wife’s problems. Don’t be distracted into looking for the problem within yourself. Angry people are often people who spend a lot of energy pointing their fingers at others so that they don’t need to look at themselves. Blaming helps people to feel justified for their emotional distance and their choice to damaging things, like overspending, affairs, frequently staying out late, or even refusing to go to bed with you.
No matter anything your husband or wife tells you that you did, it doesn’t really justify his or her behavior.
The reason is that your husband or wife could have responded in a better way.В He or she could go to drug or alcohol rehab; she can work on her relationship with you.В Together or separately, you both could have consulted a relationship coach or marriage counselor.В We can decide to break the cycle of arguing by not justifying our own distancing based on our husband’s or wife’s behavior.В To start to change things you need to realize that you have more choices than to either fight or withdraw.В Because neither of these choices will fix anything.
When our spouse is the one creating the distance, we have a better choice than just creating more.
First, we can look at a couple of things.В 1) Is our spouse arguing in order to create a comfortable emotional distance from us; and 2) Is our spouse pushing us away because he or she feels pushed away by us?В В Sometimes when the arguments have gone on for a while, the original reason for arguing is long gone.В Then it’s all attack and defense with no good reason at all.В Knowing which is the case will help us to react in an appropriate way.
As a relationship coach, I help people to do the unexpected thing–the effective and loving thing.
I help people to make their husband’s or wife’s bad behavior toward them not work anymore.В Imagine if your husband or wife pushes you away with petty arguments and you respond in a way that is actually loving and assertive (but never, ever sarcastic).В What would happen?В Interestingly, instead of your husband or wife pushing away more, he or she would tends to decrease theВ bad behavior.В Real communication would start to happen. Then there would be less need for games, pornography, affairs, etc.В Remember–to be effective, your response must make your spouse’s actions toward you not work anymore.В At the same time, you will need to have a way to set good boundaries and help him or her feel loved.В Like a lock and a key love and boundaries must be used together to be effective.
It goes against our natural tendencies to help someone who is hurting us.
But, that is part of love.В Feeling "in love" comes naturally, but loving when things are hard takes guts. We need to help our husband or wife to have the best relationship with us as possible.В We need to work for our spouse’s benefit because that is to our benefit to.В We need to see our husband or wife as an imperfect human being who is doing what he or she knows to get a little bit of happiness out of life.В Of course, you need your spouse’s love too.В I help my clients to be both strong and loving. I don’t teach them to be patient and loving because that’s not going to fix a bad situation. And to think about breaking up over stupid arguments? I don’t think so.
Marriage and Relationship Coach Jack Ito PhD
Helping Marriages and Families Since 1994
Does alcohol make you argue with your partner?
Why alcohol can encourage arguments and what steps you can take to avoid the problem
Drinking with your partner can be an evening in with a takeaway and the telly, or a night out at a nice restaurant. Some people can feel more relaxed and sociable glass of wine. Drink too much however, and you could find your night ruined by an argument that neither of you really want. Late-night disagreements may often be resolved in the morning, but they can grow into relationship-threatening resentments.
Why alcohol can encourage us to argue
Alcohol works on the brain to lower our inhibitions which may make you feel more confident and less anxious. But those lower inhibitions can also make you accidentally say or do something that you may come to regret.
The flipside to the temporary relaxed stat that alcohol can create are the aggressive moods that may start to appear after you’ve drunk too much. Scientists have linked aggression to the consumption of too much alcohol 1 – so it’s not surprising that you’re more likely to argue after drinking. Worryingly, they have also identified a strong link between alcohol and domestic violence 2 .
How alcohol can exacerbate any problems in your relationship
Relate relationship counsellor Christine Northam says that arguing a lot when you’re drunk could reveal underlying problems with your relationship. She believes that alcohol is often used as an excuse for bad behaviour. About a third of the couples Christine sees end up in counselling because one of them, or both, drink too much.
"The younger couples I see work really hard in the week and then drink to excess at the weekend," says Christine, "and that can cause arguments. In the questionnaire people fill out before they see me, one of the questions is ‘How much alcohol do you drink?’ Often I’ll ask people in counselling ‘Do you drink much?’ and they say ‘No’. But looking at their survey results reveals otherwise."
The best time to talk with your partner
If alcohol is affecting your relationship, the next day or when you are both sober is the best time to talk. Author and behavioural expert Judi James, says that if you think your partner is drinking too much, it’s important not to criticise them.
"Instead you might want to say: ‘Why don’t we try to cut down together?’ Then you can both motivate one another and will have a responsibility to each other," advises Judi. "Or you might want to ask your partner when they’re sober, ‘Shall I stop you when you’ve had too much to drink?"
Five ways to stop alcohol ruining your relationship
1. Go alcohol-free The best nights out, or evenings in, don’t have to include booze. You can bond over a romantic movie or sip delicious alcohol-free cocktails at the bar.
2. Stay within the low risk guidelines If you do decide to drink alcohol try and stay within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines by not regularly drinking more than 14 units a week.
3. Snack smarter Food slows down the rate your body absorbs alcohol. So if you do choose to drink, eat regularly before and during drinking to help you stay sober.
4. Talk it out sober If something is worrying you, don’t wait until you’ve had too much to drink to talk about it. Instead, try and discuss any problems with your partner over a coffee.
5. Choose the soft option Alternate soft drinks with alcohol to help stay in control of what you’re drinking.
I can’t seem to stop arguing with my partner. What can we do?
Arguments are common in all kinds of relationships. Some degree of conflict can even be healthy, as it means both people are expressing themselves, rather than keeping everything inside and letting emotions fester.
But if you’re arguing all the time, or simple disagreements end up in a hostile silence or screaming match, it can really start to take a toll on things – or even leave you wondering whether you’re all that compatible in the first place.
Learning ways to handle disagreements constructively is crucial in any relationship. We always say: conflict is inevitable. It’s how you deal with it that counts.
Find out why you’re arguing
It can be useful to think of an argument like an onion. The outer layer is what you’re speaking about, while the deeper layers beneath represent the issues beneath this.
In other words, sometimes what we argue about is only a symptom of what’s going wrong, not the cause.
For example, Sam gets into an argument with his partner about whether they do their fair share of the household chores. On the surface, the argument may seem to be about something small, but it could also tap into wider feelings about how well supported Sam feels in the relationship generally.
It may also remind him of other situations when he has felt let down and unsupported by other people in his life. For Sam’s partner, the argument may tap into deeper worries about how controlling they feel Sam can be.
If you find you and your partner argue frequently, or about the same kinds of things a lot, it can be a good idea to think about what’s really causing the conflict. Are you arguing about what you think you’re arguing about – or are there other things going on the relationship that frustrate or worry you?
You may want to consider other influences too: have there been any recent changes in your lives that may have put extra pressure on either of you? This could be something like a bereavement, starting a new family, moving house, financial problems, work pressures or just a reaching a relationship milestone such as reaching a big birthday.
Maybe you have been spending less quality time together than before? Has there been an incident that one or both of you is struggling to get over? Did you use to argue less? And if so, why do you think that is?
Seeing past your emotions and trying to look at the wider context of the situation can be a great way of getting to the bottom of what’s going on.
Talking it over
From there, it’s a case of talking things over in a calm and constructive manner. This can be really hard when you’re feeling emotional, so you might like to try the following tips:
- Choose an appropriate time to talk. If you think you’re going to struggle with your emotions, it may be worth simply coming back to the topic when you’ve both calmed down. Likewise, it’s a good idea to have the conversation at a time when you’re both able to focus on it – not immediately before someone has to go to work or with the TV on in the background.
- Try to start the discussion amicably. Don’t go in with all guns firing, or with a sarcastic or critical comment. It can be useful to start by saying something positive, such as: ‘I feel like we were getting on really well a few months ago. I was hoping we could talk about how much we’ve been arguing recently.’
- Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements. This will mean your partner is less likely to feel like they’re being attacked, and you’ll be taking responsibility for your own emotions. For instance, instead of saying ‘you never listen to me’, trying saying: ‘I feel like I’m not being heard when I talk to you’.
- Try to see things from your partner’s perspective. A conversation is unlikely to go anywhere productive unless both participants feel listened to. It can be tempting to just try to get your point across, but if you want to resolve things, it’s really important you take the time to hear what your partner has to say too. They may have an entirely different perspective – one you’ll need to understand if you want to get to the root of what’s going wrong. Try to validate each other’s feeling by saying things like: ‘It makes sense to me that you feel like that’. Making your partner feel heard can be hugely powerful.
- And remember: you may not just be arguing the surface problem. As much as we like to believe our partners will – or rather, should – always understand where we’re coming from, the truth is they’ve grown up with their own ideas and with different influences. For instance, if you think they’re controlling with money, it may be that their role model (when younger) was in charge of all financial affairs – so they’ve always assumed that’s how things work. Read more about emotional relationships with money.
- Keep tabs on physical feelings. If things are getting too heated, it can be a good idea to take time out and come back once you’re both feeling calmer. Saying something you later regret because you were really worked up is only going to make the fight worse and can leave feelings seriously hurt.
- Be prepared to compromise. Often the only way to reach a solution is for both partners to give some ground. If both of you stick rigidly to your desired outcome, the fight is probably just going to keep going and going. It might be that one or both of you need to compromise a little so that you’re able to move past things. Sometimes, an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all.
How not to argue
There are lots of destructive things that people do in arguments that tend to make conflict worse rather than help resolve it. Try to avoid any of the following:
- Stonewalling. This is a total withdrawal and refusal to discuss the issue. It usually leaves the conversation with nowhere to go. Stonewalling is often used by people who don’t like conflict and so try to avoid it. It’s very common in relationships for one partner to habitually stonewall while the other gets frustrated trying to get answers.
- Criticism. Commenting negatively, over and above the current problem. ‘You’re always so forgetful.’ This can cause the other person to feel attacked and threatened. This behaviour often creates a very defensive response, and so can be the trigger for a real shouting match.
- Contempt. For example, sneering, belligerence or sarcasm. ‘You think you’re so clever.’ This is very unproductive and can cause the other person to feel humiliated and belittled.
- Defensiveness. Aggressively defending and justifying self to the other person. ‘You haven’t got a clue just how much I have to remember every day.’ The other person is likely to feel attacked by this and the argument is likely to escalate.
Watch two of our senior counsellors talk about arguments in relationships:
It can take a while to change negative behaviours and learn to disagree in a constructive and calm manner.
If you’ve gotten used to certain patterns of behaviour, it might take a little practice before you’re ready to start working together better.
However, do try to stick with it – because once you get used to working through problems in a constructive and calm manner, it can produce some really positive changes in your relationship.
Relationships are always a work in progress. If you find yourself rowing again, look at what happened, think about what you each could have done better, and talk it through. Then forgive yourself and your partner and move on.
How we can help
If you’re finding it really difficult to stop arguing, then we can help:
- Relationship Counselling gives you a chance to talk over any difficult issues in a safe and confidential environment. Your counsellor will help you to have a productive and calm conversation, and allow you both to make your perspective known.
- Try a webcamsession with a trained Relate Counsellor.