It’s a stressful Tuesday morning and you and your significant other are fighting about the dirty dishes in the sink for the millionth time. It sucks, doesn’t it? Every couple has that one issue they always fight about.
And while recurrent fights are common, they might not actually be healthy: “You shouldn’t be having the same fight over and over again,” says Kimberly Moffitt, PhD, a Toronto-based relationship expert. A verbal battle that won’t end means you’re not actually working through the problem when you’re discussing it, she says. So the core of the issue, which reveals a lot about your relationship as a whole, isn’t resolved.
We asked Moffitt about the most common recurring fights between couples and what they might mean for the big picture of a relationship.
You Fight About Money
- If you find yourself fighting about money all the freaking time, you might actually have different view points on what you want out of life: “In my experience, people think they fight about money because there’s a lack of it, but most of the time it’s about a couple’s difference in values and what’s important to you in your life,” says Moffitt.
- The Fix: You have to address what your priorities are by talking to your partner about your short-term and long-term life goals, says Jane Greer, PhD, author of What About Me? “You’ll flesh out what you want in your future,” she says. From there you can discuss how you can compromise on his goal of getting to Europe and your goal of buying a house, for example. If you’re not able to compromise on your values, then meet with a relationship therapist who can help mediate, says Greer.
Fight About Household Chores
- This is one of the most common couple fights because many men and women struggle to divide household chores equally. If you feel like you’re constantly asking your partner to empty the dishwasher for once, you’re definitely not alone. But as mundane as these issues seem, they can take the greatest toll on a relationship, says Moffitt. This is a sign that you or your partner need to work on your communication and listening skills, she says. “A good partner will listen and respond to their SO’s request, no matter how small or silly it seems to them,” she says. “If they care enough, they will eventually break their habit and change.”
- The Fix: Moffitt suggests this three-step approach when dealing with household issues: First, explain the problem or issue. Then, share why you feel the way you do about the problem. Finally, ask your partner to work with you to come up with a solution. Being clear about why it bothers you so much will make the situation easier for your partner to understand. You can use this approach to work toward solutions to other problems caused by poor listening, too.
You Fight About Family
- When you fight about family all the time, the core issue is usually that one of you isn’t feeling valued or important in your relationship, says Greer. For example, if he feels like the two of you are constantly hanging out with your family, while only seeing his twice a year, or he always complains when your mom comes to visit, the root cause is that you or your partner don’t feel like the number one priority to the other, she says.
- The Fix: The best thing to do is to agree that no one is going to make decisions about doing family things without consulting the other, says Greer. While that can squash any future in-law arguments, you also need to address the bigger issue, she says. “You can say, ‘I appreciate that you like spending lots of time with your family and I want you to do keep doing that. But I want to feel that I’m as important as your family,'” she says. Then, ask your partner if you can plan some alone time to balance things out. It’s OK that you want to be put first, says Greer.
You Fight About Sex
- Whether you’re fighting about more sex, less sex, or different kinds of sex, arguing about what goes down in the bedroom can affect your emotional and physical connection with your partner, says Moffit. Oftentimes, this kind of argument stems from a lack of communication in general. You should be talking about what you want in bed and your sexual expectations, like how often you want to do it.
- The Fix: Set aside time to talk about your sex pectations while you’re fully clothed. Foreplay or intercourse isn’t the time to bring up issues—your partner might wind up feeling ashamed or defensive. Discuss how you’re feeling and your sexual needs. From there, pencil in monthly or bimonthly “state of the relationship” meetings to discuss all aspects of a partnership, including sex. That will help improve your communication skills overall, she says.