If you’re tempted to call BS on that one co-worker or friend who swears she and her significant other “never fight,” you’re probably right. “All couples argue, and that is totally normal,” says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a relationship therapist in New York. “It’s how you argue that separates the healthy couples from those who are more challenged.”
To help you navigate the totally normal tiffs and blowouts, we asked the experts which fights are most likely to surface in your relationship and how to handle them when they do.
In any fight, the main thing to remember is that you want to communicate more, not less. “When you feel yourself getting frustrated or annoyed with your partner, try to nip it in the bud. Address your concern,” says Sussman. “Tell your partner what’s bothering you and why and try to be solution focused instead of just doing an emotional dump. Then sit back and listen and validate your partner’s response. It’s as important to listen as it is to explain and explore your own feelings.”
1 You have different financial priorities.
- You want to upgrade the couch while he thinks you should put your cash into bitcoin. Or maybe you want to book the cheap hotel on your next vacation because you’ll be exploring the beach the whole time, while he wants to book the luxe resort. Having different ideas about what to do with money is totally normal, but “it’s important to make your feelings known so you do not start to collect resentment,” says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a therapist in New York. “You may not win every preference difference, but sharing your needs is healthy.”
- How to handle it: “It is important to understand why your partner wants to do what they want to do. Sometimes just validating their point of view will help a mutual decision happen,” says Hendrix. Say you totally get the perks of staying in a super-swank hotel, but your thought was you’ll probably be out doing activities the whole time so it might not be worth it. “Help your partner to understand why it will benefit you and them,” she says.
2 You have different definitions of “clean.”
- One woman’s “neat” is another’s disaster zone. If your ideas of tidiness differ, it can cause a constant argument. “One isn’t better or worse, just different,” says Hendrix.
- How to handle: “Don’t blame or shame your partner,” she says. In other words, telling them they’re a horrible person for leaving their socks on the floor isn’t the way to go. Instead, help your partner understand how their habits affect you, she says. “Shaming only leads to your partner feeling attacked, guilty or angry.”
3 You load the dishwasher differently.
- Okay, maybe it’s not the dishwasher specifically, but we all have our own way of doing things—squeezing the toothpaste, making the bed, separating the recycling—that can drive our partner crazy. “No couple escapes the we-do-it-differently struggle,” says Hendrix. Ultimately, you have to pick your battles.
- How to handle: “Ask yourself how your decision to fold or not to fold like your partner will effect you and your home,” says Hendrix. “Is it really a big deal to fold differently?” Maybe this is an area where you can stretch a little for your partner. Or maybe your towel-folding method is an integral part of your mental health and ditching it will drive you up a damn wall. If the battle is worth fighting, explain to your partner why your way is so important to you.
5 You have different social schedules.
- “Most couples have some degree of discrepancy on how much time they want to spend alone vs. together,” says Hendrix. Again, it’s better to address this early on so you don’t end up feeling resentful down the road.
- How to handle: “Share how you spending not enough or too much time with your partner is affecting your level of connection,” says Hendrix. Rather than saying “don’t train for that marathon and spend time with me instead,” tell your partner you support their goals but don’t want to lose your connection in the process. “Brainstorm together on how you can stay connected and still meet your individual goals.”
6 You have different sex drives.
- “Every couple has one partner who wants sex more and one who wants it less,” says Hendrix. So take a sigh of relief, you’re not alone. “Sex is never a problem until you aren’t having it—then it becomes the elephant in the room. If you can navigate this discussion early on, the elephant won’t appear as much.”
- How to handle: “Find the fine line of stretching for your partner without feeling resentful or taken advantage of,” says Hendrix. In practice, that often looks like acknowledging your partner’s desire when you’re not in the mood and being honest when you just really aren’t feeling it. “Show your partner you hear them and you care,” Hendrix says. “If you say no, come back around in the next day or so and see if the timing is better for both of you.”