What do couples argue about?
At one level this is an easy question to answer – couples argue about money, parenting, sex, household chores, the balance between individual and couple time, religion, holidays, work versus home time etc etc. What’s more interesting is to look at why couples argue about all these things.
What makes someone attractive to us as a potential partner?
Most people choose a partner who share common interests but who also complement their own personality in some way so that, through their relationship, they can experience a wider range of ways of being. Let’s take introversion and extroversion as an example. An introvert is someone who is interested in their own thoughts and feelings and therefore processes their experience internally – they think things through, and once they have begun to order things in their own mind they are then ready to talk about it. An extrovert is someone who is interested in what is going on around them. They process their experience externally by talking first and through the talking they begin to make sense of their experiences. Introverts and extroverts have different ways of recharging their batteries – an introvert will feel refreshed by spending time on their own, whereas an extrovert will feel refreshed by spending time with others. It is said that none of us is completely introverted or extroverted but that we fit somewhere on a continuum – being either predominantly introverted or predominantly extroverted.
When we look at introversion and extroversion, it’s easy to see how choosing a partner with the opposite way of being is an advantage. An introvert who finds it hard to go to new places and meet new people, may find their social life enlivened by an extrovert. An extrovert who finds it hard to think about his or her inner processes may find that an introvert will help them to think before taking action. However, the flip side of this can be that the extrovert wants to go out more and to spend more time as a couple, whilst the introvert needs a bit of distance and wants time on their own. We would call this discrepancy in the couples' need for closeness versus distance the ‘couple theme’ and would expect to find that they argue about individual versus couple time, or about the closeness/distance in their sex life.
Some other common couple 'themes'
Some couples have an organisation/disorganisation theme. A person who finds it hard to organise their life may be attracted to someone who finds organising easy, whilst the organised person may find the more ‘chilled out’ approach to life helps them to lighten up. However, when both members of the couple go out to work or when there is a change in the traditional roles that they have played, they may struggle to agree upon how the household is managed, with one of them noticing what needs to be done and expecting the other to pick up their share of the responsibility. This may lead to arguments about household chores, who pays the bills, work versus home time, responsibility for children etc. Paradoxically, when the ‘less responsible’ partner takes more responsibility the ‘more responsible’ partner often finds it hard because things are not being done in the way they would like them to be done.
It’s not hard to see why a playful, creative person and a logical-thinking person who values structure and planning might be attracted to each other. Each will bring something to the relationship that the other person doesn’t have, but which they value. However, life changes - particularly when children come along and mortgages have to be paid - and as it does the partner who values planning and structure may become exasperated with the playful person's spontaneity and lack of ability to plan; whilst the playful person may feel restricted by their partner's need to think things through logically and to make plans rather than just letting life happen. These couples are likely to argue about holidays, work versus home time, child rearing etc.
Understanding what first drew us together helps us to understand what is pushing us apart.
This is just a small snapshot of couple relationships and is not meant to be prescriptive in any way, but is an attempt to show how the very things that couples find attractive in each other may also be the things that cause conflict. When we are able to see the ‘couple theme’ we can help the couple to be able to understand the ‘why’ of their arguments, and understanding this may give an insight into resolving conflict and learning to live with and continuing to enjoy each other’s differences.
Finally, it’s not a failure to seek help if sorting it out yourselves is proving to be difficult. Couple counsellors are there to help you to communicate with each other and to understand each other better. Couples who come in the early stages of having relationship difficulties need fewer sessions to sort it out as the conflict is less likely to have become entrenched.
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