Marriage Therapists Solve the 10 Most Common Fights Couples Have (PHOTOS)

Maressa Brown | Jan 4, 2015 Love & Sex

couple arguing on couchFrom sparring over monthly bills to being on polar opposite wavelengths sexually, married couples find themselves on a therapist's couch for all manner of reasons. But as much as we'd like to think that our particular challenges are thoroughly unique, marriage therapists see different couples struggling with the exact same hot-button issues in their office time and again.

Hence why we figured we'd pick three top marriage therapists' brains about the 10 most common fights they see married couples have and what they recommend in each case. Trust us -- whether you're newlyweds or celebrating double-digit anniversaries, this is seriously priceless advice!

Check out the therapists' words of wisdom below, then tell us: Which of these tends to be the issue you and your spouse struggle with most? What have you tried to resolve the conflict?


Image via Maria Maarbes/shutterstock

  • The Differing Values Fight

    1

    If you and your spouse have different attitudes or habits when it comes to money, it may feel like you're having the same fight about spending and saving over and over again.

    But it's not really about dollars and cents, notes clinical psychologist Jim Osterhaus, PhD, author of Questions Couples Ask Behind Closed Doors: How to Take Action on the Most Common Conflicts in Marriage. "If you're fighting about money, you're fighting about priorities and values," he explains. "And those come out of your own personal story. In other words, the way you were raised, the priorities your family had."

    The solution, he says, is figuring out "what's most important to you" as a couple, then pinpointing the various compromises you both need to make to get there.

  • The 'I'm Right & You're Completely Wrong' Money Fight

    2

    Money fights can also be rooted in the myth that one of you is 100 percent right, and the other is flat-out wrong, says marriage therapist Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, and author of The Complete Marriage Counselor: Relationship-Saving Advice From America's Top 50+ Couples Therapists. "This is something I go over with couples all the time, and I say, 'Would you rather be right or together? Why is it so important to have to have the last word?'" she explains.

    Ultimately, finding a resolution in cases like these requires a bit of self-analysis. "You have to really look at yourself and figure out why you're that way," Amatenstein notes. "It comes down to listening to each other and hearing each other, and knowing you can't change another person. So many fights [stem from] just wanting to make the other person the way you think they should be, but they're not you. The only thing that we can do to change is our actions and our reactions." And putting the kibosh on finger-pointing about who spent what is a good place to start!

  • The Unfulfilled Expectations Fight

    3

    "This one comes into play through each party failing to do little jobs like taking care of pets, cars, garden, repairs, shopping, etc.," notes Jeanette Raymond, PhD, author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! "One or other isn't doing what they are 'supposed' to, or [fulfilling] preassigned roles both have prior to marriage, but that are not spelled out openly -- hence the fights!"

    For example, one spouse isn't the breadwinner that the other expected, or one partner isn't consistently getting dinner prepared on time, even though they are the assumed homemaker.

    The fix: "The couple needs to make their unconscious and deeply-held expectations of their spouse overt," says Raymond. "Many couples are too scared to do this, because they anticipate it will end the marriage." If that's the case, she recommends investing in therapy as a "safe place to begin sharing their expectations with a professional who will hold the threads of the marriage together for them and give them ways of communicating their experiences in ways that can be tolerated and adapted to."

    More from The Stir: Quiz: Will Your Marriage Last?

  • The Parenting Styles Fight

    4

    Our pasts often shape our parenting styles, and how that plays out for one spouse could differ significantly from the other's. (IE, your mom was very much a disciplinarian, so maybe you're going to be more laid-back to avoid being like her, and your husband had the opposite experience.)

    "We learn our parenting styles from how we were parented, and we repeat what was done to us in a lot of respects, and that causes a lot of disagreements and fights," explains Amatenstein.

    The solution: "It's imperative that a couple sit down and be able to listen to each other and hear each other about their desires and feelings about how to parent and WHY," she says. "Once you have an understanding, you can go into problem-solving mode. Then you can at least reach compromises."

  • The Dead Bedroom Fight

    5

    Many couples find themselves going without sex for weeks, months, or even years in some cases, which of course can lead to a lot of anger and resentment.

    "It's usually one who has just turned off and doesn't want sex," says Amatenstein. "Your sex drive is tied up in how you feel with one another. You [need to] feel safe, feel like you can joke with one another. If you're angry, you don't necessarily want to be with your spouse."

    So obviously, working on your emotional connection is key, but so are logistics. "Couples don't make time for sex, especially when you have kids and they take up all the oxygen and energy," notes Amatenstein. "So that makes it harder, as well. You have to pay attention to each other and make time for each other. And what can you do to make it fun? You want to go back to basics -- leave sexy notes for each other, flirt, do a long goodbye kiss in the morning, or have time when you're in bed at night to talk and cuddle and chat. It's really important to make time to connect every day."

    More from The Stir: 7 Sure Signs You're Headed for a Sexless Marriage

  • The Missing Spark Fight

    6

    Even if a couple is managing to maintain their sex life, they may fight over a lack of romance, mutual attraction, or missing sparks, notes Amatenstein.

    The good news: Participating in an activity you both enjoy together -- from doing a Paint Nite at a local bar together to checking out that museum you've always talked about exploring -- can improve this conflict significantly. "There have been studies that couples have to do activities together that are bonding," Amatenstein says. "You have to make time for each other and work at making that time together meaningful, and that all feeds into making the other parts of the relationship good."

  • The 'You Take Me for Granted' Fight

    7

    After so many years together, couples don't always remember to say "thank you" or to make gestures that show appreciation for their spouse, and in turn, one or both partners may feel slighted that their efforts, work, and commitment are ignored and unappreciated, notes Raymond.

    "The guy makes the travel arrangements and fixes the oil leak in the car before they go on a weekend trip, but his wife doesn't notice or comment," she elaborates. "He feels bad, and when he can't take feeling invisible any longer, he attacks her. She did the packing and the food preparation. He hasn't thanked her or commented on her thoughtfulness and foresight. She is crushed and attacks him when she is at her bursting point. These events are daily occurrences that fuel perpetual fights."

    You'd think the solution might be as easy as trying to show one another appreciation, but it's about more than that. "Both have to do things because they want to rather than to try to impress or get noticed," Raymond explains. "But alongside that, they both need to talk to each other about all the times they felt invisible as kids and how hard they tried to get their parents' attention. Empathy will then oil the wheels for a better understanding of each other. When both have not been seen and acknowledged as kids, it's hard for them to do it for each other. So they have to make a conscious effort to SEE the other, not just want to be seen."

  • The Work-Life Balance Fight

    8

    One spouse may work longer hours than the other, or even travel frequently for business, which can set the stage for a common conflict, notes Raymond.

    "The one who is upset feels that they are less important than their spouse's work," she explains. "They set up hoops for their spouse to prove that they matter more than work, heralding another constant series of unwinnable fights. The one who works a lot feels unfairly criticized, since they are apparently making the money that enables a certain lifestyle to be maintained. Issues of trust, jealousy, suspicion, envy, and fear stoke the fire."

    The solution: "Express your underlying insecurities to your partner so that your fears can be understood rather than heard as criticism," she advises. "It usually means tracing your fears to your childhood. Perhaps one or both of your parents was away a lot, and it created tension and threatened the stability of your family. The one working a lot needs to express what it means to have to choose between work and family and what models he/she is following from his/her childhood. The personal element needs to be removed, because that's what starts the fight, and it's rarely personal. All the issues of trust, jealousy etc., dissipate."

  • The In-Laws Fight

    9

    At one time or another, just about all couples face a conflict revolving around a mother- or father-in-law who has overstepped their boundaries. If you and your spouse don't agree about those boundaries, a fight is inevitable.

    The solution, of course, is to get on the same page. Osterhaus recommends discussing any problems you have with your in-laws honestly. "Explain that you need to have your partner's cooperation in heading off the in-law's controlling or meddling behavior," he advises. Ideally, presenting a united front as a couple is essential to moving past in-law issues.

    More from The Stir8 Tips for Splitting Housework With Your Husband to Avoid Fights

  • The Fight About Fighting

    10

    If you can't even begin to keep track of all the fights, and it feels like you can't communicate without a conflict erupting, it's possible you'll find yourself actually arguing about always arguing. "Sometimes, somebody is a drama queen who is so used to their mode of communicating being fighting," says Amatenstein.

    In these cases, she advises each spouse work on themselves. "If you're constantly blurting out whatever nasty thing comes into your brain, that's not your partner's fault, it's yours," she notes. "Part of couples' work is helping people do individual work, because you have to look at your own [issues], own them, and start trying to control them better."

marriage

More