I don’t mean to demean adults, but bickering is really a thing with couples and it’s a thing that we really need to rethink. It’s not totally unlike a social media bickering session, where uncivilized, un-adult behavior is being slung all over the place. Typically, someone leaves feeling like the winner and the other person leaves either feeling bad about themselves, bad about the marriage, or angry about how it turned out. It’s a lose-lose.
There are the marriage vows (or promises) and then there are the rules (or promises) we can make about how we treat each other on a day-to-day basis. No one wants to go to the picnic when it’s raining. No one wants to go to the weekly staff meeting if the boss has poor interpersonal skills and everyone suffers because of it. If your interactions are unpleasant, you are both likely to start avoiding them.
We have to practice the rules they tried to teach us in Kindergarten. Check out this book if you don’t already have it! All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.
Do any of these behaviors creep into your marriage interactions?
- Eye rolling
- Aggressive hand gestures
- Acting like you aren’t paying attention or aren’t interested – drumming fingers on the table, looking in another direction, fidgeting with something, looking at your phone
- Speaking over the other person
- Using insulting or demeaning phrases, like, “Are you kidding me right now!?”
- Laughing when the other person is being serious
- Fist shaking, pounding, throwing things
In my clinical experience, the most common fuel for bickering is lack of romance and intimacy. In fact, I’ll just say it. Lack of sex can provide a lot of fuel for bickering. Why? Because when we have a rich and healthy sex life, we don’t tend to treat each other like a the sibling that we bickered with as a child!
To look at what’s going on with our sex life, click Here.
Other Things That Fuel Bickering
- Drug or alcohol use (even if you aren’t an alcoholic or drug addict)
- Being overtired
- Hormones – Women aren’t the only ones with hormones. We have our cycles and our “use caution” days, but he has them too.
- Accumulation of “issues” between the two of you that aren’t getting worked through
- Stressors like money, relatives, vacations, parenting challenges, etc.
What to do?
As a couples therapist, I can give tools, like this one which gives a reasonable structure for working through topics that come up. But you can’t go into an exchanges thinking that you will just follow the steps and it will all work out. You have to have your own set of personal best standards.
You know you! You know your weaknesses, for the most part. Some people know their weaknesses and have the attitude, “Too bad! He’s pushing my buttons….She should know better….” Some people actually don’t see their part in it. Some people grew up with parents who screamed at each other and came out of that experience with, “Never will I do that!” Some came out of it with the view that it is one way to get to the bottom of things. No therapist can tell you what to believe about the correct way to interact with other people. No therapist can tell you definitively how to respond when someone is acting badly toward you. You have to search yourself and your beliefs.
Even still, you know you. If you don’t like it when someone talks over you, don’t talk over people. If you don’t like it when someone storms away from you, don’t storm away from people. You know, The Golden Rule. It makes a lot of sense.
You CANNOT control other peoples’ behavior. You can only control yours. Be someone you can feel good about at the end of the day. Stop doing the things that you know you shouldn’t do, regardless of what they are doing.
Make a list of promises to yourself. It makes little difference if you share it with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend. It’s about you managing you. These are “Ego Strengths” and/or “coping skills.” When you have strong ego strengths and coping skills, you can manage yourself well almost all of the time. For example, when you get angry, do you want to punch something? This would be a sign of poor ego strength. When you get very upset do you storm out of the room, grab your keys and burn rubber out of the driveway? OR do you take a breath and consider your needs and your next move.
Some “Promises” List Examples
- To seek God before all else. To pray for you, for me and for us.
- To never raise my voice or interrupt you during a difficult conversation between us.
- To remember that you love me and I love you and that we want the best for each other.
- To listen well and seek to understand what you are saying instead of thinking of myself and my defense when you are communicating something to me.
- To try my best to express myself, instead of letting thoughts and feelings fester within me.
- To never expect that you can read my mind and to never assume that I can read your mind.
- To respond truthfully if you ask me if something is wrong, even if I don’t feel ready to talk about it.
- To never storm away or leave the house (or wherever we are) angrily and without letting you know where I am going and when I will be back.
- To denounce any thoughts about ways to “get back at you” or hurt you.
- To apologize for wrongdoings that I become aware of.
- To take responsibility and acknowledge when I have hurt you.
- To never walk away or make gestures (including eye or facial expressions).
- To never do anything intentionally that I know will hurt, frustrate or anger you.
- To commit to working on my own shortcomings instead of focusing on yours.
- To give you a loving and sincere hug before going to sleep for the night, even if we haven’t resolved our issue.
- To remember your many gifts and thank God for giving me the gift of you, even if we are in a storm.