The most common fights couples have aren’t regarding infidelity or childcare.
They’re relatively trivial things, like chores and social media, according toRachel Sussman, a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City.
Sussman explained that the fight isn’t so much about the issue itself as it is about a lack of communication. “If you’re someone who has really poor communication skills,” she told Business Insider, “that might mean that the minute your partner brings something up, you get very defensive, or you start with the ‘tit for tat.'” Which means that “no matter what you’re arguing about, that could escalate into a really big fight.”
Sussman described 10 of the most common sources of conflict among the couples she sees — and importantly, she said, working on your communication skills is the key to resolving them all. “If you can communicate well, you can get through these issues in a way that can actually bring you closer together,” she said. “And if you can’t communicate well, it makes it so much worse and can actually tear you apart.”
Couples fight when one partner feels like they’re more committed than the other.
When unmarried couples come to see Sussman, they often want to talk about commitment. Typically, Sussman said, one partner feels like they’re more committed than the other. Or one partner wants to “move the relationship forward” by moving in together or getting engaged and is encountering some resistance.
Fights about money come up later in a relationship.
“It’s very normal in a couple that one person is a spender and one is a saver,” Sussman said. The problem is “you think you’re justified and the other person is at fault.” The saver might accuse the spender of being fiscally irresponsible; the spender might accuse the saver of being cheap.
Don Cloud, president and founder of Cloud Financial Inc., previously told Business Insider that he frequently works with spender/saver couples. The first step, he said, is for each partner to share their beliefs and feelings about money.
Yet Sussman said issues also tend to arise when couples move in together or get married and face the decision about whether to combine finances, a notoriously difficult choice. If they’re hesitant, “might this show that there’s a lack of trust?”
Or, fights about money might come up later. Maybe both partners worked when they started dating, but once they had kids, one partner stayed home. The partner who works might be “holding that over [the other partner’s] head,” or even engage in financial blackmail, Sussman said.
Couples fight when one partner prioritizes work over the relationship.
“Someone might be a workaholic,” Sussman said, “or someone might be prioritizing work over relationships.”
As Michael McNulty, a master trainer from The Gottman Institute and founder of the Chicago Relationship Center, told Business Insider’s Rachel Gillett, “Having a spouse addicted to work can feel like as much of a betrayal as extramarital affair to the other spouse.”
Couples can sometimes argue over addiction.
Sometimes people bring their partner to see Sussman because the partner has an alcohol problem — or at least the person perceives it that way.
As it turns out, one small study, published 2013 in the journal Couple and Family Psychology, found that substance abuse was a common “final straw” in the decision to get divorced.
After couples have children, they often argue about not spending enough time with one another anymore.
Sussman says she sees a lot of couples with small children who aren’t finding enough time to connect with one another. Sometimes they feel “their relationship has become very transactional.”
Scientists who have studied the transition to parenting say there are three factors that help a couple maintain intimacy after having a baby:
• “Building fondness and affection for your partner”
• “Being aware of what is going on in your spouse’s life and being responsive to it”
• “Approaching problems as something you and your partner can control and solve together as a couple”
Couples fight if there is too little (or too much) sex.
Sometimes one partner wants sex more than the other, Sussman said. She’s also been told that one of them is “feeling that their sex life has died.”
Bat Sheva Marcus, the sexual dysfunction specialist and clinical director of The Medical Center For Female Sexuality, previously told Business Insider about the usefulness of a “sex schedule,” which is exactly what it sounds like. “If you want to have sex, you need to schedule sex,” Marcus said, especially when both partners are busy, or when they have different desire levels. “That doesn’t make the sex any less special.”
Infidelity can be detrimental to relationships.
This is something Sussman said she sees plenty of in her practice.
While the discovery of an affair can potentially destroy a relationship, it doesn’t have to. Couples therapist Esther Perel previously told Business Insider that couples can sometimes become closer and more honest with each other in the wake of infidelity, almost as though they’re entering into another marriage.
Couples disagree over how to raise their children.
A common parenting problem Sussman sees is that one parent is more lenient and one parent is stricter.
That’s why Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist who’s written multiple books about parenting, previously told Business Insider that the No. 1 question you and your partner should discuss before having kids is: How do you manage joint decision-making?
“If you have parents who have a hard time bridging disagreements,” Pickhardt said, “that’s probably not a great sign. They’ve got to be able to know how to communicate, and how to change, and how to make concessions, and how to compromise.”
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