The Five Arguments You’ll Repeatedly Wage With Your Spouse

Most fights—whether they are seemingly about control or jealousy or toothpaste—are really about one of the following five problems, and the solutions are often quite universal.

Fight #1: I’m Right. You’re Right. How Can This Possibly Be?

I almost had such an argument with my husband the other week. He’d gone to Philadelphia with our daughter for the day, telling me that they’d be back in the early evening. Early evening came and went. I called, got his voice mail, and said in a very friendly tone, “Hey, let me know when you’ll be home so I can plan my evening.” An hour went by. I called again. This time I said, “I know. I know. I’m being neurotic, but I’m worried about you, especially now that you didn’t call back. Please humor me and call and let me know your timing.”

Another hour went by.

Soon I was on the Internet to see if there were any car accidents on the highway or random shootings in Philadelphia. I found nothing. I had that sick feeling in my stomach, the kind of sick feeling that makes one worry, “Is it time to call the police and fill out a missing persons report?”

That’s when I texted, “Are you okay?” Within seconds I got the response, “Yes.”

My first thought was, “I’m so relieved.” My second was, “Why didn’t you return my damn phone messages?”

When they got home, I was sincerely happy to see them. At the same time, I was a bit irritated. “Why didn’t you return my calls?” I asked.

“You called?” he asked.

“Yes, I called twice. I was worried about you.”

“I didn’t get a call. Oh,” he said looking at his phone. “I have two messages. From you.”

“I thought you were both dead,” I said. “You just subtracted a year off my life tonight. This is no exaggeration.”

We hugged. That was that.

Now, years ago, this type of argument would have gone on a lot longer. It would have included some yelling some me, accusing him of being inconsiderate and of not loving me and so on and so forth. Now, however, I’m better able to see such an issue for what it is: A misunderstanding. He did not try to bring anxiety and worry into my life. He was only trying to ensure the kid had a fantastic last day of summer vacation. He’s goals were noble, and so were mine. We were both right, but one of us (me) was hurt.

The solution: To circumvent this type of argument, it’s important to do three things. First, remind yourself that your spouse’s happiness, opinions, problems and decisions are just as important as your own. Second, understand that sometimes what brings your spouse happiness won’t bring you happiness and vice versa. Third, mentally exchange yourself with your spouse. Try to see the issue from your spouse’s perspective.

Fight #2: I’m Hurt.

You have this fight when your spouse has screwed up. Perhaps he or she promised to do something important, but didn’t follow through. Or maybe your spouse said something sarcastic and hurtful. The triggers are endless.

The solution: Make it your goal to be understood, but not to get an apology. I know, the apology would be nice, and, in some marriages, apologies happen easily and often. In many marriages, however, one or both spouses has a very hard time taking the blame and admitting it. This doesn’t mean your spouse isn’t truly sorry. It only means that your spouse hasn’t said those words out loud.

Case in point: My husband often fails to apologize, but I know I’ve been understood when he behaves differently in the future. This change in behavior is much more important to me than an apology. After all, people can say they are sorry without actually meaning it.

Fight #3: You’re Hurt

This is the reverse of Fight #2. Now you’ve done something that your spouse has found hurtful.

The solution: This is easy. Accept defeat. Do it even if you would not have been hurt if the situation were reversed. It’s tempting to question someone else’s experience and assume that it’s invalid because we haven’t had the same experience ourselves. (Note: I’ll be writing more about this phenomenon in a future post). That’s why it’s important to remind yourself that you and your spouse may not share the same reality, but this doesn’t mean you don’t love one another. Make it your goal not to bring unnecessary suffering into your spouse’s life. Seek to understand, apologize, and, most important, change your ways. And, yes, I did just tell you to apologize, but not to accept the same from your spouse. Trust me. It’s gospel.

Fight #4: I’m Grumpy

I could also call this one, “The fight that many couples get into late at night or first thing in the morning.” You are not fighting about anything in particular. Rather, you are just stressed, tired, hungry, irritable, or distracted, and all of that creates a perfect storm for anger.

The solution: Give your spouse space when he or she is grumpy. When you are grumpy, own it and tell your spouse, “I’m really grumpy. This isn’t about you. I’m putting myself in time out for your benefit.”

Fight #5: I’m Scared

This is the “I’m afraid you don’t love me” fight. It arises because it’s hard to admit fear and insecurity. Both make us feel weak. We mask that weakness by accusing our spouse of being no good. We hurl a bunch of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” at our spouse, like this, “You should never talk to other women. Good husbands don’t do that to their wives. What’s wrong with you?”

The solution: Own your insecurity, and make it your goal to overcome it by facing what you fear and having deep, real conversations with your spouse. This sounds like this, “When you talk to other women, I worry that you don’t love me anymore.” Your spouse will probably respond, “Of course I love you!” You can follow up with, “How can I know for sure?” Then your spouse can tell you. In other words, it’s not about setting up one rule after another for your spouse to follow. It’s about communicating your fear, understanding your spouse, and your spouse understanding you.

What arguments do you repeatedly have with your spouse?


16 comments… add one

  • Christine August 30, 2012, 11:13 am

    I’m so glad that you stated that your husband doesn’t apologize often but you know you’ve been understood. My husband has always had a hard time with apology and I kept that as some dark secret from many of my friends. Even though I know when he is sorry for something because how he will act. It is hard sometimes to remind myself that it’s not meant to hurt my feelings that he won’t say “I’m sorry, I screwed up” that it’s just who he is and how he communicates, actions do speak lounder that words.

    Reply
  • Gay August 30, 2012, 5:51 pm

    The only thing I’d add is know what communication style works best. A lot of folks ignore messages and light up with texting. Check! Next time, text first, right?

    Reply
    • Alisa August 30, 2012, 7:10 pm

      I know! Yeah I think phones are better at pinging you with a tone when a text comes in, too.

      Reply
  • Matt August 31, 2012, 9:56 pm

    This is pure gold! How you managed to “pin the tail on the donkey” for the very short list of roots of just about any argument, I don’t know, but I’ll take it and run. :)

    Reply
  • Dan Smith September 2, 2012, 4:54 pm

    I just stumbled onto your blog after googling for solutions to couple’s fights. I’ve been in a relationship for four months and did something two days ago I thought was trivial, but it absolutely sent my gf into orbit. I began with the usual male technique of mimimizing, rationalizing and being defensive. Things got worse immediately. Today I held out my hand (I thought) in peace while we chatted on Facebook and she got going on my case again. I used the technique of the gift of surrender, took full responsibility, apologized and continued. We aren’t over this by any means, but her venom (as she calls it) has diminished and her most recent comment was “I just don’t know what to say.” I hope this means she is starting to move on. We’ll see. But I felt an immediate reduction in my stress level, and that has to be a good thing.

    Reply
    • Alisa September 3, 2012, 8:18 pm

      Dear Dan–So happy that the technique worked for you. It sounds like your GF is caught in a negativity loop that just has to extinguish itself. If you don’t add kindling to the fire (by patiently keeping your own mind under control), her anger will go out over time.

      Reply
      • Dan Smith September 4, 2012, 8:05 pm

        Thanks for your response. The fire isn’t out yet, but things are better. We are going to stop sending flame texts and sit down and talk about things. We love each other a lot but she just can’t get beyond the issue that triggered this. It was just my failure to cancel some plans and spend some time with her. Nothing horrible like infidelity or abuse. But very significant to her. keep you posted.

      • Julie October 3, 2012, 6:56 pm

        How does one get over the negativity loop? Especially when the issue causing the negativity loop is still there…about 7 months ago my husband said he didn’t find me attractive because of my weight. Ouch! (He said this after I just finished jogging10 miles…I am 5’0 and I weighed 128 at the time). I am now down to 110 lbs, but he still doesn’t find me attractive because my “body has changed after two kids” He loves me and wants to have a good marriage…but I can’t get over the negativity loop! It runs through my head daily, hourly…

  • cj renzi September 4, 2012, 2:42 pm

    Fantastic post, first off. Very elegantly stated. Money (scared) and family (terrified) are our most common triggers and very stubborn. These too, are becoming non-issues as we grow.

    Reply
  • Tammy September 6, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Wow…if only every couple could have this posted on the bathroom mirror and the fridge and on a post-it on their desktop. My husband, who is the calmest man I know, has a bit of road rage. Instead of yelling (I’m scared) when he did it this morning, I calmly stated, “Well, we just can’t speed up when they do that,” and he kept driving. No berating or anger, and we drove happily on. Thanks for a putting this one out there!

    Reply
  • Jordan September 6, 2012, 7:04 pm

    Love it! These ARE the reasons we fight–forwarded this article to my hubs & am re-reading a second time to commit to memory. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Brette September 14, 2012, 7:56 am

    I’ve been married 23 yrs and we don’t really fight, but we have moments of misunderstanding, mostly grumpy kind and the you didn’t do something you promised kind. Usually it is me annoyed that something I was promised didn’t happen and over the years I have learned that I need to adjust my expectations because generally I am just to anal about these things. Above all else, I always try to remind myself to treat my husband the way I would want to be treated. I don’t always succeed, but it is a guiding principle I try to rely on.

    Reply
  • brandy November 13, 2012, 11:40 am

    My husband and I have been together for 6 years and married 2 years and we just had our first baby she is 16weeks old. Naturally we have been going through a adjustment period but we had a very big argument and maybe i am to blame but I stated ” You can show more Initiative when it comes to our daughter and things to be done”. Now he is a emotional type personaity and he said he was hurt by that we went to bed angry. The next day we had worked things out so it was a pleasent evening, you know calm after the storm but I could still tell he had a chip on his shoulder and then he would tell me ” No i got it remember I have to show more initiative”..rubbing that in my face. Now when i left for work i stated like i always do ” love you dear” he replied back ” God bless you”, and this was the second time i noticed. Yes we are a religious family but i felt some hesitant when he replys now i know this is only day two since the argument but its really hurting me now because i feel he doesn’t love me really anymore. We don’t fight really we have had 4 arguments in the 6 years that we have been together but i am just afraid that this one was the big one and the love conncection could be in limbo? I would love any advice or thoughts if you all have any!

    Reply
  • Dan Smith December 15, 2012, 10:14 am

    Alisa, I want to give you a followup note. Since starting to use the techniques of surrendering and giving the victory away, my relationship has continued to improve. I’m totally at peace with myself. My gf and I have small disagreements, but nothing escalates and I don’t have the sense of being a doormat. In fact, she seems to have adopted the same strategy even though I’ve never talked to her about it. It just seems to make both of us happier with ourselves and each other. So, thank you very much for your help.

    Reply
    • Alisa December 16, 2012, 2:18 pm

      Dear Dan,

      This note really made me smile. I’m so happy to hear that these are working for you!

      Reply
  • Mary Jane Hurley Brant May 31, 2013, 7:40 pm

    Lovely, lovely, lovely article. Women, this woman, however, likes an “I’m sorry” followed by a change in behavior!

    Oh, yes, Alisa, there are many marriages within the marriage. Keep up the good writing.

    Kindly,
    Mary Jane Hurley Brant

    Reply

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