The majority of couples I see in my therapy aren’t here to work through the big stuff in life – the infidelities, financial pressures or complicated family stuff. Believe it or not most of them are arguing over the trivial stuff like who does the housework. But a partnership at odds over who takes out the rubbish or feeds the cat aren’t really locking horns over the specific tasks, it’s more about what the tasks represent mixed in with unhelpful communication skills and difficulties in accepting personality differences.
Here’s my top tips to avoid domestic blowouts and romantic meltdowns.
So, you’ve found the perfect partner and compatible in every way? Research tells us that the main thing couples tend to bicker about are domestic chores. And why wouldn’t it be, after all what we’re really talking about here are our personal standards, expectations and priorities.
Most clashes occur when our partner doesn’t match up to who we expect them to be but once we make a decision to share our lives with someone we need to learn the art of compromise and negotiation. If not you’ll forever be competing with one another.
Get real, name it
What’s the real meaning underneath the clash? What are you fighting over? Is it about not being heard, seen or valued in a relationship? Do you feel taken for granted? Is one or both of you going through a difficult period of stress, depression or anxiety? The eruption on the surface is usually a symptom and not the cause. Sitting down together and being courageous enough to be authentic will be a huge step in restoring a sense of harmony.
Learn to communicate
Despite most of us thinking we’re good listeners research tells us we’re not. A vast majority of people listen to defend their own position, or even more frustratingly, pretend to listen whilst thinking about the next thing they want to say.
Be honest and ask yourself whether your communication style is empathic and solution-focused or critical and defensive. Are you passive, aggressive or a combination of both?
If you feel yourself getting worked up try some deep breathing techniques or even take some time out before you resume discussions. Rarely is a helpful solution found in the heat of the moment. Own your feelings and avoid any temptation to attack.
Many of us fall into the trap of being easily distracted at home (think smartphones, devices, juggling family and work). The result is we don’t stay present. You’re unlikely to be heard (or feel heard) without your partner giving you their full attention.
Try setting aside weekly time to tackle the trickier elements of the day to day. Sitting opposite one another and taking turns to talk and listen can really help to create a safe space.
Remember you’re on the same team
What are you going to gain by fighting over the small stuff? A sense of power, control, pride? If left unchecked this kind of toxic in-house combat can turn even the most healthy and functional of relationships into a cesspit of frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment. Keeping a mental score-sheet of who did what? Learn to let it go.
The root of all conflict arrives from our feelings of separateness – that is that we reduce the other person into an object simply blocking our path. Remember the objective is about finding a way forward together not trying to beat your opponent.
Set clear responsibilities
Play to your strengths and set some clear roles and responsibilities which you mutually agree feels fair. Once you have agreed on this avoid the urge to project manage your partner into getting things done your way. Nobody wants to be micromanaged and it will likely be interpreted by your partner that you don’t trust them. So whose stuff is that? Theirs or yours?
By making a few changes and learning to communicate better most couples can start to see an immediate improvement in their situation. Disagreements should never cross personal boundaries and verbal or physical attacks are completely unacceptable. If you feel your relationship may benefit from external support reach out to a qualified relationship counsellor who can help get to the bottom of your issues and help you work on your communication skills.
Steph Jones (MBACP PGDip BSc Hons HND) is a Registered Counsellor, Psychotherapist and a freelance Writer. Steph offers individual and relationship therapy to adults at her private practice.