What do couples fight about? Popular magazine quizzes will likely give you one of these five things – but I find them normally off the mark which leaves people trying really hard to solve the wrong problems. The result is couples spinning their wheels over the same supposed issue over and over again. Here’s the top five false targets that I’ve seen over the years in relationship therapy.
Money, parenting and sex.
I call these the big three and I lump them together for a reason. People fight about them. Chances are if you are not fighting about at least one of these three things – your not doing something right. These are just in a constant state of renegotiation. Wages and expenses increase and decrease. Children grow and develop different needs. Sex (healthy sex) deepens and grows. If you’re not renegotiating these frequently, sometimes daily, your going to fall behind. Of course the negotiations can be out of balance or someone may have withdrawn from the negotiation – but that’s a different problem. These issues can be solved “superficially” with what I call “truces” but more often than not these don’t last. Why? Because truces let people escape from talking about the underlying wants and needs within the negotiating process! If you want to put these to “rest” you have to dig a little deeper into why the negotiations aren’t working.
I frequently hear, women usually, complain about communication being a problem in the marriage. Men usually agree – but for different reasons. What is clear is that both know what the other is going to say before they say it. They are just tired of the same old argument and all the emotional pain that goes with it. They have communicated their positions very clearly – they just don’t like each other’s message! Self help magazines will suggest using “I feel” language and repeating each other’s statements. The problem is “You’re such a slob leaving your dirty laundry around,” and “I feel angry when I have to pick up your dirty laundry” are essentially the same thing. Sure, the first is blaming and the second is assertive and that’s good, but ultimately quibbling over grammer isn’t the issue. People aren’t even that good at identifying why they feel the way they do. It’s much safer to argue over indisputable facts like where the dirty laundry is located than personal wants and needs. Laundry may be the safe scape goat to argue over rather than ambiguous relationship needs.
This is closer to the issue – but still misses the mark. What men and women typically report they mean by “lonely” is that they want to to DO more together or, to a lesser extent, BE together more. Well and fine, but in my experience when either person says they are willing to spend more time or do more together, it isn’t good enough. The lonely partner now wants the other person to want to do it, do it correctly, or promise that it will happen consistently. They have unspoken expectations that they want the other person to fulfill and when they don’t ~ the loneliness is confirmed. Additionally, when I suggest the lonely partner call a friend to relieve their loneliness both partners insist that this is a role that only their spouse can fill.
Bored of the same chores, bored of the same sexual activity, bored of the same recreation, house, schedule, car, vacation, meals. Amazingly when I ask what they have done to relieve their boredom they see it as their partner’s fault – but have taken no steps to relieve their own boredom. Often the person saying that they are “bored” is typically the most “boring” person in the relationship! More often than not, once we dig deeper we find that boredom is a code word for “afraid of change.” They want change, but they want it safe, predictable, and on their own terms – not their partners.
This usually comes from one of two places, work or parenting – but almost always ends in the bedroom. The problem is that when I ask the person complaining of fatigue to let go of what is sapping their strength – they just can’t be convinced to do it! It is suddenly inconceivable to let the laundry pile up, don’t mow the lawn, don’t take the extra shift at work, let some of the kid’s extra curricula go. It seems clear they want the other person to be doing some work; however, when that happens, the fatigued partner will take over with the excuse that they were doing it wrong! The problem isn’t fatigue but fear of expressing deeper needs and anxiety.
What is wrong then? As already noted, these are usually deflections to addressing some fear. These fears may be not yet well understood. They often relate to misconceptions from our family of origin about what make a healthy or unhealthy relationship. The above are typical (except in very rare circumstances) defense mechanisms to cover for that discomfort or disappointment. Almost invariably they include some unstated earning or justifying of needs that person has yet to voice. They are typical arguments that both partners maintain because both partners are fearful of expressing their wants and needs in the relationship and being responsible for meeting their own wants and needs.
Maybe you’re tired of the same old arguments – but you’re not sure how to move forward. Maybe you’re tired of having to “prove” things. Maybe you’re feeling like the only time you’re sure you’re married is when you fight. Maybe your tired of holding everything “together” and not getting what you want. Individual therapy or relationship therapy can help get things moving again. Call today.