Where you argue and what it says about your relationship
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Today I’m delighted to have Andrew G Marshall an author and marital therapist as my guest blogger.
Andrew G. Marshall is a marital therapist with almost thirty years experience. He trained with RELATE the UK’s leading couple-counselling charity, but has developed his own method which blends psycho-dynamic (which looks at your past and how it affects today) with systemic (which focuses on how your relationship works today and what would improve matters) counselling.
He writes on relationships for the Mail on Sunday and Psychologies Magazine. For the Times, he wrote the Psychobabble series. For the Independent, he wrote the celebrity profile Revelations – where somebody in the news talked about a moment where they learnt something about themselves – and for Woman and Home magazine he interviewed celebrity couples Inside a Marriage. He has published ten books on relationships and his work has been translated into over fifteen different languages
In this article Andrew looks at where you argue and what it says about your relationship.
“After a row, when couples have a post-mortem, they pour over what was said and how they feel. The last thing they analyse is where the argument happened. But maybe they should, marital therapist Andrew G Marshall has been surveying where couples fight. He believes that the location can reveal what the conflict is really about.
Top Three Places for arguments
It’s not just back seat driving, traffic jams and poor map reading that makes the car the place you are most likely to have a row. In our busy 21st century lives, it is one of the few extended times that we spend with our partners. Unlike at home, it is hard to storm off when arguments get heated. Plus with the driver’s attention fixed on the road, we think a controversial issue might be easier to slip into general conversation. Certainly our partner will find it harder to spot if we are anxious, blushing or being devious. However without direct eye, our body language and intentions and more likely to be misunderstood.
What it says about your relationship: With a driver and a passenger, nowhere are the issues of control and power more out in the open. Arguments in the car are really about who is in charge. Modern couples like to feel they are equal, but underneath the surface one half often feels powerless.
Solve it: In successful relationships control is divided. For example one will be in charge of money while the other organises the social life. Draw up a list of activities, areas of the house and responsibilities and put down who has the final say by each. If the balance is uneven, discuss which areas can be passed over. Always consult your partner in your areas and be careful not to belittle their opinions.
This is mission control in any house and the place that couples are most likely to meet at stressful times – like first thing in the morning. The kitchen also throws up plenty of fuel for a row: washing up left lying around, clothes not taken out of the tumble drier or using the last of the milk. If you have children, it often provides somewhere to hiss at each other away from prying ears – busy watching TV in the living room or finishing their homework in their bedrooms.
What it says about your relationship: Do you really feel appreciated? At the bottom of many domestic arguments: one half or both feel taken for granted. However rather than focus on the causes, many couples unwittingly concentrate on the small surface issues and beat themselves up because they believe the rows are out of all proportion.
Solve it: Complements and ‘thank you’ are really important. Nobody can ever have enough praise. When first courting, we leave each other notes and buy surprise bars of chocolate – don’t stop just because the relationship is established. Next time you tell your partner they love them – add on one of the reasons why. It might seem like a joke: ‘because you make a mean lasagne’ but it makes you love declaration seem less of a reflex and more grounded.
3. Out and About
Many couples deliberately discuss controversial subjects in coffee shops and restaurants. They feel it is harder to lose their tempers in public and hope witnesses will keep them both rational. Other couples row at parties after alcohol has loosened their tongues or because secretly they hope friends or family will take their side. Finally, shopping with your partner is another opportunity for conflict.
What it says about your relationship: In these relationships, an argument is often seen as a failure. You try and be rational and many times convince yourself there is really nothing major to be angry about – so why upset the apple cart? However a lot of feelings are being repressed.
Solve it: Understand that rows are part of a healthy relationship. Letting off steam can be the first step to solving a dispute. If you are go out to discuss issues to be away from the kids, think again. Hearing their parents bring up issues and solve them is the best way for children to learn how to do it themselves.
Bottom Three Places for arguments
1. Living Room
The television is often the focus in the living room and an ever present excuse not to engage: “could we talk about this later, I’m watching my programme.” Although generally a pacifier, TV can occasionally be the source of conflict. The jealous monitor whether their partner is too interested in semi-clothed actresses or actors. Plot lines can also stand in for submerged issues: “that’s just the sort of thing you’d do.”
What it says about your relationship: These couples are depersonalising their conflict, because they are afraid it will get out of hand. However talking about issues second hand – through the soaps – takes the argument out of your hands into the script writers’.
Solve it: Learn the three key skills of a good row. Don’t criticise the person (you’re lazy) instead criticise the behaviour (please don’t leave the towels on the floor) Tackle one subject at the time. Really listen – rather than rehearse your side of the argument.
Couples are more likely to kiss and make up in the bedroom than row. Although different levels of desire can cause tension, sex in general is such a difficult subject couples repress rather than talk over these issues. If the relationship is in real crisis, one partner will often go earlier and pretend to be asleep when the other finally comes to bed.
What it says about your relationship: Arguing in the bedroom is a sure sign that you are over tired. Tension at bedtimes will make sleep more difficult and further exacerbate the problem. How good is your love life? Has an okay sex life drifted into something boring and unfulfilling.
Solve it: Look at your priorities. Are you taking on too much? How can you change your evenings to give more time to talk and solve problems. Don’t be afraid to also set aside time for love making – so sex is no longer the last effort of an exhausted mind and body.
It is not the soothing effect of nature that makes this the place couples are least likely to fight. Arguing in public is embarrassing enough without having to face witnesses the next day and, unlike family, neighbours are particularly unforgiving and prone to gossiping. The British weather also means, we’re not outside long enough to fall out for half the year.
What it says about your relationship: These arguments are out of control and a sign that a couple can’t live together but can’t let go. They promise that next time round, everything will be better but soon fall into the same old pattern.
Solve it: Agreeing to try harder is not enough. Your relationship needs a major overhaul and that is difficult on your own. Reading self help books is useful but ultimately counselling is best. This will help you unpick destructive patterns which probably have their roots in both of your childhood’s.
Learning to argue effectively is one of the most important steps for putting the passion back into your relationship and is covered in detail in chapters three and four of ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you.’
For more information about Andrew’s work go to: