Even your most common and annoying fights are an opportunity to learn about your relationship and make it stronger. Here’s what you can learn about your relationship based on what you argue about with your partner:
- The arguments you have with your partner can reveal a lot about the deeper-rooted issues in your relationship.
- Money and sex are two incredibly common reasons for arguing, but couples also disagree over smaller issues, such as cleaning or the use of technology.
- When bringing up an issue with a partner, express your viewpoint in a way that is understanding and compassionate.
You have the same fight repeatedly
Whether it’s dishes in the sink or late nights out with friends, couples often have a recurring source of conflict in which they’ll “seem to have the same fight over and over again, says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York and Connecticut. “This annoyance can certainly manifest in the form of a complaint (‘Why do I always have to remind you to do your dishes/help with the dishes?’), which can certainly lead into a fight.” But there’s more to it than feeling grossed out over the sight of caked-on tomato sauce on plates. Dr. Amsellem explains that ignoring a partner’s request, even if it’s something as seemingly trite as dishes in the sink, conveys a sense of disrespect to the other person who may feel they’re not being heard.
A heated argument over something little
Did your partner leave the empty yogurt container on the counter? Samantha Boardman, PhD and founder of Positive Prescription, says being thrown for a loop over little things can be normal, but it’s important to take stock of what likely set off the annoyance in the first place. “Stress, fatigue, and hunger often provide the spark to set off a heated argument,” she says. “Discovering your partner left the cap off the toothpaste after a fun evening together is one thing, making the same discovery after a long day at work and a horrible two-hour commute home in the rain is quite another.” Rather than light into the other person when stress strikes, which Dr. Boardman says can stir up questions about criticism, control, blame, or partner negligence in the relationship, she suggests focusing on kindness and compliments throughout the relationship.
Watch your back: arguments so intense, your body hurts
While money and sex are the top two most common reasons for arguments, parenting differences, in-law issues or even what’s-for-dinner fights can also lead to arguments, Dr. Boardman says. Driving behaviors and too much technology use during mealtimes to the list as well, says Dr. Amsellem. Regardless of the topic, be careful about how you react, especially if the argument intensifies: it can make the difference between good heart health and bad. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University, found that couples who engage in rage-fueled fights are more likely to experience spikes in blood pressure and cardiovascular problems in the future. On the flip side, if you regularly withdraw emotionally during a heated spat, to include hardly saying anything and avoiding eye contact, the same researchers discovered you’re more likely to develop stiff necks, backaches, and overall muscle tension.
You’re too serious
You’ve heard sayings about not taking yourself too seriously, right? Well, it’s important during arguments too. Using the example of frustrations over leaving dishes in the sink, Dr. Amsellem says that making light of the situation is an option couples may want to explore. She explains that using humor to reframe the situation may involve saying something such as, “Well, who knew that when I brought you into my life, I would be bringing along your mess too?” Dr. Boardman agrees, saying humor goes a long way—and not always just when arguments surface. “Finding funny moments in the every day and sharing a laugh together will bring you closer and put you both in a better mood,” she says. “Positive interactions decrease the likelihood of an argument and make it easier for you to give one another the benefit of the doubt.”
You’re always caught up in the day-to-day
Do your best not to get bogged down in the argument of the moment. Instead, researchers suggest keeping an eye on the future. A University of Waterloo study suggests that thinking about the future has a positive impact on couples’ reasoning strategies and feelings, ultimately leading to more relationship positivity. Specifically, when study participants focused on thoughts about their relationship a year into the future, more forgiveness was demonstrated. Ask yourself if what you’re fighting about now will truly matter a year out and replace any negative thoughts about each other with forward-thinking ones.
There’s screaming and yelling
If you and your partner are yellers and screamers, an arguing style described as “destructive,” you may be more likely to head down the divorce path. (Interestingly, they found that women more so than men engaged in destructive arguing styles.) The best bet? Perhaps take Dr. Boardman’s advice and inject humor in the situation if appropriate or as she says, learn to “fight better.” And Dr. Amsellem stresses the importance of assessing whether your behaviors are making the other person feel as though they’re being taken seriously or ignored. Don’t get bummed out when yelling occasionally occurs though.
One person is calm, the other withdraws
This one is like spinning your wheels in mud. When one person tries to be constructive by calmly solving the issue at hand and the other avoids involvement or leaves the fight altogether, the argument can potentially go unresolved. Not only can this produce lingering feeling of anger and relationship dissatisfaction, but University of Michigan researchers found this argument style to be an indicator of possible relationship troubles down the road.
You both forget about happier times
Whether you’re getting along famously or bickering about dirty dishes, sexual frequency, spending habits, or anything in between, it’s essential to take a breath and focus on the love you shared in the first place. “Give a compliment, make your partner a cup of coffee, flirt a little, be affectionate, or send a text message saying something sweet like you used to do when you were dating,” Dr. Boardman says. “It’s so obvious and yet so easily forgotten when there are kids to feed, bills to pay and laundry to do. At the end of the day, it’s the everyday gestures of love that count. As the old saying goes, if you act as you did at the beginning of the relationship, there won’t be an end.”