5. The Fight About Control
“I find that one of the biggest fights is caused because one partner is a very controlling person,” says relationship coach Melinda Carver. “The partner wants to control everything, from when to set the alarm clock [and ] where to go to dinner [to] how many times to have sex.” First off, quick editorial aside: Alarm bells! If you’re with someone who wants to control everything down to the last minute detail, head for the hills. And if — gasp — you’re the controlling one, check yourself before you wreck yourself. “The controlling partner badgers and harasses the other partner into the behavior or activity that they want,” she says. “When the other partner decides to call out the controlling partner, then the fight may go on for days.”
Think of such a thing as relationship poison. “The manipulative, controlling partner will just bully the other partner relentlessly, until both are exhausted,” Carver says. “That is when the other partner has to decide if they want to remain in this relationship — or leave.”
How To Avoid It:
Controlling girlfriends and wives, take note: “For the manipulative, controlling partner, the only way to begin moving out of this behavior pattern is to … stop it as often as possible,” Carver says. For starters, “I recommend that they allow the other partner to choose the activities and menus for their day off,” she says.
And a little visualization goes a long way. “I also ask the controlling partner to really decide if they want this partner in their life,” she says. “They usually say yes. I then ask them to imagine their partner leaving them due to their controlling behavior.” This type of conceptualization can put autocratic tendencies into perspective. “Providing them goals to work toward in behavior adjustment, as well as [reminding them of] their own need to keep the relationship, gently pushes them to modify and stop their controlling tendencies,” says Carver.
6. The Fight About Household Chores
File this under the same category as fights about control: “It sounds like a minor squabble, but in working with hundreds of couples, we found one of the most frustrating fights couples have is [about] how to load the dishwasher,” say couples therapists Jon and Beverly Meyerson, creators of the adorably-titled relationship website Power Snuggles. (Their tagline? “Turning power struggles into power snuggles.” Does it get any cuter than that?!) “There’s a reason for this,” say the married couple. “Most couples’ fights concern one partner wanting to control the other.”
Derivative of control-based fights, “the analytical … partner believes they know the perfect way to get clean dishes,” the Meyersons say. “The over-burdened loader … believes there is not enough time to spend loading the dishwasher” to achieve what their partner might term the “right” way. “This continuing scenario, with two people attacking the other’s methods, can lead to hurt feelings and a lot of resentment,” they say.
How To Avoid It:
Four simple words: Live and let live. Don’t try to control your partner, the Meyersons say: “Once couples can find a solution to this issue, other disputes are more easily handled, because all disputes concern who has control over a situation.”
7. The Fight That Has Nothing To Do With The Situation At Hand
Ah, this old classic. This oldie but goodie (oldie but baddie?) is a exceedingly common phenomenon for couples, especially those who have been together for long enough that underlying issues build up and fester. “What I hear most as the type of fight couples regret is the one where they go too far in saying all the built-up thoughts they’ve had,” says licensed clinical social worker Janet Zinn. This is a case of stale resentments coming out sideways. “Perhaps they both feel their partner doesn’t listen, but they end up saying how bad sex is, with specifics,” Zinn says. Well, yes: That would be an ugly fight.
How To Avoid It:
“Learn to listen to each other,” Zinn suggests. There are even exercises to help you do this. “One is for one person to state a problem, and when they are done, the other must repeat what he or she heard.” Like a game of telephone, the pair may find that there’s a disconnect between what one person says and what they other hears. “This gets repeated again and again, until they find ways to be understood by the other,” she says.
“The wife may say, ‘I hate when you don’t put the cap back on the toothpaste.’ Then [the husband] may say, ‘So you think I’m a slob.’ She repeats, but differently, ‘Could you please put the cap back on the toothpaste in the morning? It’s nice when things are complete and I can move on with my day.’ He may say, ‘You’re kidding me, that could ruin your day?’ ‘No, not at all,’ she says, ‘I just like it when you put the cap back on.’ ‘OK, I’ll put the cap on.’ Done. Then he speaks of an issue he has, and they go on until she can hear him.”
This leads to a couple seeing “how differently they understand things,” says Zinn. If I may add one last thought: If the problem you need to state to your partner is that it drives you crazy that he never puts the cap back on the toothpaste, you may be dealing with deeper issues. One of my favorite relationship questions: How important is it? This one question is enough to avoid entire unnecessary arguments. Choose your battles, y’all, and don’t fight when you’re tired or hungry.
Curated by Erbe