While constantly arguing with your spouse doesn’t make for a happy marriage, your relationship can suffer as badly if you hold back feelings until you finally explode. And there are certain subjects that tend to come up more frequently in marriages than others. Here are five common conflicts that we have found are experienced by numerous couples and how best to resolve them.
The conflict: “I feel like it’s all on me, all the time.” / “I am so tired of the constant nagging.”
A common reason couples fight is when one spouse feels he or she does more in the marriage than the other and/or when when one spouse “nags” the other to participate or contribute more. What these couples need is an agreement on their Job Descriptions resulting in a Fair Division of Labor. A Fair Division of Labor is an equitable division of actual time spent on tasks that support the marriage and the family, including but not limited to: jobs, childcare, cooking, cleaning, chores inside and outside the home, doctors (and other) appointments, paying bills, purchasing household items, errands, home maintenance and repairs, phone calls, paperwork, entertaining, pet care, just to name a few. I suggest that both parties list and agree upon all of the responsibilities it takes to effectively manage their marriage, their families and the household. Once this list is created they can then go about the task of fairly dividing the labor, time and energy required. This list now constitutes their Job Descriptions for the Marriage.
The conflict: “You spend too much money.” Or “You’re too cheap.”
One of the easiest ways to solve money conflicts is to create a Budget. The Budget is simply a mutually agreed upon outline of how much money is coming in and where it is, (or should be), going out. “Mutually agreed upon” being the most important part of this sentence: it rarely works for one partner to have the ultimate say over the couple’s finances. Budgets don’t have to be complicated. Simply sit down and determine how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. After you know what’s coming in, (after taxes), determine what you have to do. What are your day-to-day expenses and responsibilities, (i.e., food, bills, housing, etc.). Next, determine what you want to do, (i.e., paying off debts, saving for a house, college funds, retirement, etc.). Next, allocate the budget toward optional or discretionary expenses, (like entertainment, clothing, dining out, presents, etc.). Whatever is left after those three categories, we get to splurge or invest!
I tell couples that instead of fighting each other about money, each party should be accountable to the Budget. In other words, when a financial decision needs to be made, refer to the Budget for permission, not to each other for permission. That’s not to say that finances shouldn’t frequently be discussed between the two of you, but not from a “parent/child” perspective. One partner should not have to ask the other for permission nor should the other partner believe they must give permission. Instead, the Budget becomes the “bad guy.” If the Budget says we can’t afford the new flat-screen TV, then we can be mad at the Budget, not at each other.
The conflict: “You work all the time.”
Especially in a tough job market, one spouse may be putting in extra hours to stay in the boss’s good graces. Or maybe that spouse simply enjoys their work. Whatever the case, you barely see your partner and you’re feeling lonely. You’re not getting what you need, but they think they are being the perfect partner by providing for the family. Firstly, saying “stop working so much” won’t work. They will hear “you don’t respect what I’m doing or how hard I’m working.” Instead, emphasize that you miss them and come up with ways to spend more time together. Maybe you can wake up earlier some mornings to have coffee with each other, plan a regular lunch together, schedule a standing date night (even if they have to return to work after) or meet at the gym for a joint workout.
The conflict: “You’re constantly complaining.”
Everyone has the occasional bad day, but if your ranting spouse is frequently sucking the joy out of your time together, get his or her complaining in check by reminding them of the following: Your mood is your choice. Let me say that another way – no one is responsible for how you feel except you. You can choose to think about and dwell upon all the stressful things in your life (or the situation) or you can choose to pay attention to your spouse and family and all the things for which you are truly grateful. This is often a tough concept for people to understand and accept, so here’s an illustration. Have you ever been out to a really nice restaurant and the service that day is horrible, the food takes forever to get there and the person at the next table is being really loud? Well, you could choose to focus on all that and let it ruin your night OR you could choose to pay attention to your wonderful spouse, appreciate that you can afford to dine at such a nice establishment and be thankful for all the things that are going right in your life. Both perspectives are options. You decide what to pay attention to and therefore, you decide how you feel. So when you’re spending time alone with your spouse, remember to take responsibility for your own mood, (it’s not anyone else’s job to “make” you feel happy – that’s your job!) so choose to have a good time!
The conflict: “You only show affection when you want to fool around.”
It’s important to understand that A man feels connected by having sex. A woman needs to feel connected to want to have sex. Neither one is wrong. But we often miss each other because we fail to understand this. It is true that most men usually have a much quicker arousal process. A glance, a touch, a kiss, can generally get him raring to go. Women, however, mistakenly assume that because it’s quick, the feelings behind it aren’t just as deep and meaningful. That’s simply not true. A woman should not dismiss the depth of a man’s feelings for her just because he can access them quicker than she can. Most men do think about their wife throughout the day and want to connect with her. Nevertheless, men should remember that it generally takes women a little bit longer to get engaged in the moment and get going. Also, in order to slow down her mind and feel the sensations in her body, a woman needs time to make that happen and an environment free of distractions. And women need to know not only that you desire a body, but that you desire her specifically with or without the sex.
Try making love throughout the entire day by showing affection and flirting regardless of whether you end up in bed and chances are you’ll end up there more often!
Fights Stop: Do you have even more conflicts to discuss? How can we help? Please comment below.
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com