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Why do couples fight? And what do they usually fight about?

Most people say they fight about money, sex, kids, and in-laws straight out of the gates.

In romantic relationships, all kinds of major and minor disagreements can impact the quality of a couple’s relationship. If you’re wondering what couples are most likely to fight about, check out this 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss, and Mohaned Abed.

They conducted the study in three stages with newly-married heterosexual couples. They looked at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

Component Groups:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated, and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This was affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships, and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected, and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts, and telling private information about the relationship to others—and the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children, and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time, although the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance. As women grew older, there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities.
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether you’re considering marriage, engaged, or already married, this info can provide a great foundation for a conversation about potential disagreements. There’s some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues. However, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love doesn’t see things the same way you do. It’s pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.

Either way, knowing you have these differences or areas of conflict can help you talk about how you’ll navigate them so your relationship can thrive in the process.

How Do You Talk About It?

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There’s no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you’re done with this topic. This also isn’t the time to try and convince your partner they’re wrong and should for sure see things your way.

Couples often find that seeking to understand their partner helps them make sense of why they think the way they do. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on some things and have a healthy marriage, but it’ll require some effort on each person’s part. If you’re dating or engaged, your differences may be significant enough for you to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what’s in your relationship’s best interest.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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