When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates. 

In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed. 

They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking 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.

The component groups were:

  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 would 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 even though 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, and 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 information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is 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, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

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 is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way. 

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

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

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