Can you tell if your spats have veered into territory that relationship experts identify as dangerous? Check out the warning signs—and what you can do about repairing your bond.
10. You show a fundamental disrespect for your partner
It starts with a mild complaint like “You didn’t do the dishes.” But it can escalate into a general criticism such as “You don’t help around the house.” That can evolve into passing judgment on personality: “You’re a selfish, lazy slob.” It’s the difference between a “state” (not washing the dishes) and a “trait” (you’re selfish). It’s the “selfish, lazy” label that hurts the most.
“This doesn’t happen overnight, but it gradually chips away at the foundation of your marriage,” says Lesli M. W. Doares, a marriage consultant and coach with a private practice in Cary, North Carolina, and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work. Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of Don’t Lie on Your Back for a Guy Who Doesn’t Have Yours,says arguments should never start with “you”: “‘You’ language is synonymous with finger pointing like ‘You did this, you did that,’” says Dr. Carle. “Where can a partner go from there? He can only come back with attacks on you. Before you know it, disrespect is rampant, nobody hears the other, and the true grievances you have go unheard and unresolved.” You’ll be surprised by these other secrets of happily married couples.
9. When you fight, you insist that you’re right
Yes, it can be tough to say, “I was wrong,” but in a relationship, it must be done. “My grandma used to say, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’” says Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. No one is right 100 percent of the time. Instead of figuring out who is right, you should be figuring out how to make things work. “When fighting about small things with your significant other, try to let them go,” says Winston. “Of course, the issues that mean the most and are important to you can be argued over, but in a mature way.” She recommends taking the time to come up with exactly what you want to say. “Candidates in a debate don’t raise their voices and spew out unrehearsed words,” says Winston. “The ones that are the most effective have a well thought out viewpoint.” Feeling like you need to be right really can impact your relationship. “The need to be right in an argument is divisive and can lead to resentments in the relationship, especially over time,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.“If you can’t remember that you’re a team, and focus on the root of what’s really causing conflict, there’ll be hurt feelings that can create desires for separation. Here is what your fights reveal about your relationship.
8. You disagree about having kids
You likely talked about having kids before you got married. But feelings can change. Perhaps one fears kids will get in the way of a career path. Or you want to give up trying after fertility issues have made it difficult to start or add to a family. “If you’re not on the same page about having kids, this will lead to resentment,” says Brooke Wise, founder of Wise Matchmaking. “Being a parent is a huge commitment physically and emotionally. It’s not something you can just compromise on or do for the other person. You have to be all in or it won’t work.” It’s unfair to talk someone into or out of having kids, says Doares. “Parenting is hard enough when both people are on board,” Doares says. “Being talked into it will only create resentment.”
7. You argue about sex
If one of you wants sex and the other doesn’t, that lack of intimacy could mean you’re in a platonic relationship (although it could also be the result of anxiety, depression or a physical medical condition). “Because of the innate physical and emotional vulnerability of sex, this can be a hard hurdle to get over,” says Laurel House, a celebrity relationship coach and resident sex expert for MyFirstBlush. “But it’s essential. Without physical touch, you could create a feeling of rejection, which can lead to insecurity, resentment, anger, and rebellion.” You didn’t get married to become roomies or business partners. In fact, a recent study done at the University of Toronto-Mississauga that sex more than once a week didn’t make couples happier. But, if the sex becomes less frequent than weekly, that’s when happiness declines, the study found. “Intimacy is a critical part of a healthy partnership,” says Hall. “If you’ve experienced a lack of intimacy for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably leading to a disconnect within the relationship.” According to House, you need to talk with your partner about the lack of sex when you’re both calm and in a place where you can be open and vulnerable. But don’t just talk about the fact that you aren’t having sex. “Talk about why you aren’t having sex,” says House. Find out whether it’s boredom, disinterest, distraction, priorities, insecurities or maybe a physical issue.
6. You argue over chores
Letting the laundry basket overflow can harm your marriage more than you may realize. A 2015 study from the University of Alberta suggested that people in more egalitarian relationships have higher relationship satisfaction and more sexthan couples who don’t divvy up chores. If you’re in a relationship that you feel is fair and balanced, you usually don’t mind taking on certain responsibilities or chores. But if you feel it’s imbalanced, you’ll resist doing that laundry. You want to feel understood and valued on a deep emotional level. Mike Goldstein, founder of EZ Dating Coach, has experienced this issue with his fiancé, Kelly. “When we first started living together, it drove me crazy when she left dishes in the sink,” says Goldstein. “I’d ask her repeatedly to put her dishes in the dishwasher. However, I found a way to love her more when I see dishes in the sink.” Kelly usually cooks dinner for the couple while he handles breakfast. “Now, when I see the dishes, I’m reminded that she made us an amazing dinner. If there were no dishes, that would mean she didn’t make dinner,” says Goldstein. “Now, I’m grateful when I see dishes in the sink. It reminds me how lucky I am to have an awesome fiancé who cooks for us.” This is a good reminder to check yourself using the 17 signs to find out if you’re the toxic one in your relationship.
5. You argue over family
If you feel that your partner hates your family or vice versa, you can end up resenting each other. Yes, you can talk about how to deal with each other’s families, but you have to be nice about it. “If you’re going to make critiques or comments about your partner’s family, it should be done in a way that’s respectful to your partner and mindful of his feelings,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, Dating Expert for LiveAbout.com. “Since family connections run deep, your partner may feel personally insulted or attacked by less-than-kind words about his family. And if you’re trying to change your partner’s mind about his family, this can end up changing his mind about you as a result.” You may also argue about how often to see family. Maybe one spouse wants to spend a lot of time with one set and the other doesn’t. No way is right or wrong. “The topic of boundaries with those outside your relationship is one that must be negotiated to avoid tanking your relationship, says Feuerman. “Talk about your expectations and what it means to you to have family time.”
4. You fight about lifestyle choices
One partner likes to go out and socialize with friends constantly. The other is a homebody who is an introvert. “If someone in the relationship is still partying like it’s 1999 and the other isn’t, it will most likely spell trouble,” says Winston. “The partner who is a homebody will be made to feel that they’re ‘not enough,’ making the outgoing partner feel guilty.” Opposites can attract. But these differing lifestyles mean that you have to find a way to compromise and meet in the middle. If no one can be flexible when choices aren’t in tune, then you may have a problem. Winston suggests that as many times as the partier goes out, he should make his partner happy by staying home and making a meal.
3. You fight about money
It’s inevitable that almost every couple will fight about finances at some point—it’s a sensitive issue. But when you can’t agree on how to make, save, or spend money, you’re entering dangerous territory. “The top earner in the relationship shouldn’t take complete control over spending,” says Winston. “It’s imperative that decisions are made jointly, whether it is where to take a vacation, or what and how much to spend on holiday gifts.” She suggests that if someone is better with money than the other, one decides on the budget and the other one decides how to spend it. Setting joint financial goals is one of the 16 relationship resolutions every couple should make for a happier, healthier life together.
2. Your fights turn into personal criticism
All you have to say is “Can you unload the dishwasher for me?” Instead, you say: “Why can’t you remember to unload the dishwasher?” Now you’re criticizing the person, not the task. You’re attacking your partner’s character. “Criticizing your partner is one of the fastest ways to create an irreparable divide between you,” says Hall. “Attacking who they are will lead to hurt feelings and animosity. It can quickly lead to the end of the relationship.” In fact, Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author of Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband), says that research has shown that attacking someone’s character is a relationship deal-breaker. “Name-calling (‘You’re lazy’) is disrespectful and cuts off communication,” says Syrtash. She suggests talking about how you feel and trying to find a solution. “Say something like, ‘It upsets me when I come home and the dishes are everywhere. Can we come up with a better system for housework?’ and invite dialogue,” she says. Try learning a few tricks from these happy couples who fight fair.
1. You argue about why you ever got together
Ideally, you have warm feelings about the first time you met her mom and dad or when the two of you shared a cone at the ice cream shop. You don’t want to ruminate on memories such as the time he turned up an hour late for your best friend’s birthday party. “If your time together is spent rehashing the bad times rather than enjoying the present and being excited about the future, you may end up having a future without each other,” says Lloyd. When positive memories are fading, you may be emotionally distancing yourself from one another. “It’s easy to focus in on the negative within your partner, as you start to blame them for what they aren’t instead of appreciating them for who they are,” says House. “But the fact is that all of us have our negatives. If we choose to shine the flashlight on that, soon all the other supporting negatives will be illuminated too, as the many positives are ignored.” Remind yourself of the good times by watching your wedding DVD or clicking through Facebook photos together or try one of these 28 things every couple can do right now for a happier marriage. House suggests scheduling dates during which you spend focused and uninterrupted time together recalling the good memories or events that made you laugh. “This is your chance to remember why you fell for each other in the first place, appreciate each other for who you are and stop blaming each other for what you’re not,” she says.