Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two
Have you ever had a huge argument over something completely trivial and minor? Remember the feeling you had afterwards: embarrassed that you let something so insignificant completely take you over?
Think again. Your argument may not have been so minor after all. You just weren’t verbalizing the real issue correctly. Many of us have heard the reports that say most couples fight over things such as money, sex or children. But I’m not talking about the subject you fight about. I’m more interested in what you’re really fighting about—which may not be what your fight is about. Follow me so far?
OK, I’ll explain. Sometimes what a fight is about (let’s say messiness around the house) isn’t what you’re really fighting about. What you may actually be fighting about is that your partner isn’t pulling his/her fair share around the house, which imposes a greater burden on you. But messiness triggers the issue, so the two of you engage in a knock-down-drag-out about messiness, completely missing the far more important subterranean issue that was really driving the fight. That is what normally happens for most of us: what triggers our fights may not be the real issue that we’re actually upset about—and it may not be spoken even during the fight.
I have compiled some of the fights couples engage in, and will try to translate for you what I think they’re actually fighting about:
FIGHT: Occasionally you fly into a jealous rage, accusing your partner of behaviors or motives that you consider treason.
REAL ISSUE: You need more reassurance that your partner is committed to you and isn’t looking for someone else. You may also have an insecurity or a self-worth issue—and therefore feel you’re not worthy of your partner—which means you need a great deal more reassurance, pampering, romance, endearments or affection.
FIGHT: Your partner isn’t paying bills on time, and paying the household bills is one of his/her jobs.
REAL ISSUE: Trust. Can I trust you to care for us, and not do things that will injure us?
FIGHT: Your partner is getting drunk (or high) a lot.
REAL ISSUE: Your partner (and therefore the relationship) feels unsafe, unreliable and unstable to you. You may also be fearful of losing him or her.
FIGHT: Your partner is working too much.
REAL ISSUE: S/he’s not making you a high enough priority. S/he is not spending enough time with you for you to feel wanted, valued and cherished. You want more time made available for you or for the family.
FIGHT: Your partner has withdrawn sexually, and is much less interested than she was before.
REAL ISSUE: The relationship isn’t reciprocal. I’m giving more than I’m getting. I’m heavily contributing to her happiness and well being, but s/he isn’t taking an interest in mine.
FIGHT: He talks about how hot other women are.
REAL ISSUE: You feel inadequate around him. You feel he’s negatively comparing you to other women, and that makes you feel far less secure and desirable.
FIGHT: She is shopping a lot, and your joint financial resources are extremely limited.
REAL ISSUE: You feel your partner is being selfish and self-absorbed, and is not looking out for you — or for what is best for the partnership.
I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.