Because marriage would be boring without a little bickering
Whether you’re in the throes of newlywed bliss or you’re creeping toward your 20th wedding anniversary, one thing is for sure: You and your wife are bound to have a few heated fights along the way.
But flare-ups aren’t necessarily a bad thing. “Some arguing is necessary in a relationship,” says NYC-based marriage and family therapist Jane Greer, Ph.D.
“If you never make it clear that you disagree with one another, then the anger and resentment go underground and come out in retaliatory behaviors, which can weaken your relationship,” she says.
That said, most of your fights shouldn’t be screaming matches. And they certainly shouldn’t turn physical.
Whatever the conflict, you should both be able to vocalize your concerns, express your preferences, and be able to come up with a reasonable plan that doesn’t end with you sleeping in separate beds.
“You should really be collaboratively talking together rather than fighting,” says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a marriage and relationship counselor in Denver.
Here are five common fights you should have with your partner, and how to navigate your way through them.
FIGHT #1: HOW YOU SPEND YOUR MONEY
Even the best-suited pairs can differ on how they like to spend their hard-earned cash.
“I have couples argue over every aspect of their finances, whether it’s about traveling first class or buying a Starbucks espresso every morning instead of just making it at home,” says Greer.
This issue often goes deeper than whether or not you can afford something, says Heitler. “It’s not really about spending money on designer clothing or sports cars—you’re fighting about values,” she says.
The next time you want to splurge on something and your wife balks (or vice versa), sit down and consider whether the person who’s against the purchase would have to sacrifice anything in order to fund it.
If the answer is yes, draft up a budget (if you don’t have one already) to see what’s really doable. If you could technically afford it but you or your partner is still against it, then you need to have a deeper conversation.
Maybe one of you thinks splurging on certain items is wasteful. Chatting about it should help you gain some perspective and figure out how to move forward.
FIGHT #2: HOW OFTEN YOU HAVE SEX
“A sexless couple is a vulnerable couple, and when there is a major asymmetry [in your desire], that’s a big problem,” says Heitler.
Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away; you need to sit down and come to an agreement about how frequently—or infrequently—you get it on.
If you can’t resolve it amicably—or in a way that satisfies both of you—you should seriously consider seeing a therapist.
“This is the type of conflict that leads one person to have an affair,” which could pave the way for the dissolution of the relationship, warns Heitler.
FIGHT #3: HOW YOU EXPRESS ANGER
“If one person came from a let-it-all-out-then-forget-about-it household and the other from a home where raised voices were avoided at all costs, then there’s bound to be some tension,” says Heitler.
Her advice: Talk about it at a time when you’re both calm, try to understand why one (or both) of you are so angry, and figure out how to express this emotion without a big explosion.
“Anger is a stop sign, so if you feel it, you need to pause,” she says.
FIGHT #4: HOW BIG OF A ROLE HER MOM PLAYS IN YOUR LIVES
Does it drive you crazy when your mother-in-law calls during dinner every Sunday? Does your wife lose it when your parents announce that they’re coming for an impromptu visit—and planning to stay for 3 weeks?
It’s time to set some boundaries. You might not have the same ideas about what’s okay and what’s not, but you need to talk about it and be respectful of your partner’s take.
“The trick is never to be critical of each other, including the other’s family,” says Heitler.
FLIGHT #5: HOW YOU SPLIT DUTIES AT HOME
Unless your relationship roles are as clearly defined as Don and Betty Draper’s on Mad Men (we hope not) you need to sit down and sort out who’s in charge of chores like doing laundry, washing dishes, and walking the dog.
“I had a couple who fought about dirty dishes like you have no idea,” says Greer. “He kept saying he’d wash them, and they kept piling up in the sink. It was driving his wife batty.”
The solution? The nights he was on kitchen clean-up duty, they used paper plates. “Once he realized he really enjoyed eating off of their fancy dinner china, he stepped up to the, er, plate,” says Greer.