Quick question: When you're in the middle of a fight with your spouse about-fill in the blank: the kids, money, your families, housework-do you feel like you're following a script? He says this, you say that, it breaks into shouting, until the curtain falls and you realize you've just had the same fight you had last month or last year? Well, surprise: The reason couples press Rewind on the same old arguments is because usually they are never totally resolved, says Scott Wetzler, PhD, executive director of the Supporting Healthy Marriage program at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York. Yet you can break the pattern of your most repetitive fights by learning what's behind them, and working toward compromise. Here's how to short-circuit fighting about…
Wait just a second if you're thinking that those tiresome marital spats over housework-who always mops the floors, who always shovels the snow-can be "fixed" by instituting a fair and equitable division of labor, because there is no one correct answer, says Susan Dutton Freund, executive director of ThinkMarriage.org. As with other sources of spousal conflict, the division of labor at home is, at root, about the perception of unfairness.
Getting past it: The key here is to try to understand that both of you bring assumptions (usually from your family of origin) about who should do what, which get complicated by modern life (two working parents, never enough time, etc.). Don't let resentments simmer by avoiding the topic, or come in with attacking language-both types of communication can, over time, erode a marriage. Instead, use the "approach" mode, says Freund, which involves being open to your partner. Really talk about what's feeling unfair to you, so you can reach a compromise. It may not be 50-50, but a little understanding goes a long way.
You're always working late. You spend too much time with your girlfriends. When you're home, you're never interested in hanging out with me... Arguments about time spent (or not spent) together boil down to an elemental worry plaguing many relationships: "Do you really care about me? Do you still love me?" says Dr. Wetzler. "When you're upset at your spouse for working long hours, what you're really saying is, 'I'm not sure you care anymore.'"
Getting past it: Realize that there are plenty of healthy marriages in which one spouse or the other works long hours, or where the couple is not joined at the hip. If you think about what happens when you are together-one of you works late, but then you sit and have a late dinner together, or save up DVR'd episodes of Mad Men to share-you'll begin, hopefully, to see that it's quality, not quantity, that matters. But if you're feeling your needs aren't being met, then you have to talk about that, without being accusatory.
Opposites may have attracted to create this marriage, so chances are pretty good you two have divergent money styles, which can trigger repeated fights, says Freund. "If you have an ingrained money-style difference-one's a saver, one's a spender-you may never change the other person or fully resolve the issue."
Getting past it: Try to see your partner's point of view, which you can only do by talking about it. Why is he a diligent saver, reluctant to put that new couch on credit? "Once you can both articulate your positions, and understand each other's position, the fights are less likely to devolve into insults and disrespect," says Dr. Wetzler. That's the point at which you can start working toward compromise; sit down and create rules you can both live with, such as a pledge to only make big purchases when you can pay all or most of the bill in a specified amount of time.
Many times, says Freund, conflicts over raising children boil down to one parent (stereotypically the mother, but not always) being more of a softie, and the other being more strict. Serious problems arise when fights about the kids (whether or not to compel them to eat their vegetables or let them drive the car at night) lead to attacks on the other parent's character, says Dr. Wetzler.
Getting past it: Steer clear of global statements; instead, stick to specifics. Also, try to remember that neither of you are right or wrong-your children need both nurturing and discipline. The key is to present a united front on the major stuff, so your child doesn't learn to play the two of you off each other. Next time you want to battle it out over the children, remember what Freund says: "You're better off putting your energy into your marriage than into your children, because kids from harmonious marriages fare better overall."
Conflict about sex in marriage usually comes down to a mismatch in level of desire (you want more, he's fine with less, or vice versa). Bad feelings arise because, says Freund, "the one with the higher sex drive feels he or she is being neglected, while the one with the lower drive feels pressured."
Getting past it: Meet in the middle. Talk about what you each really need; "simply having that conversation can help the partner who's feeling pressured to have more sex see that it's not just about sex, but about closeness." Figure out ways to feel closer so that you both get a little more of what you need.
There's natural conflict of interest here, and often no consensus. You each have loyalties, and arguing about it isn't going to make your husband enjoy your family's weird tradition of, for example, eating pumpkin pie for breakfast on the day after Thanksgiving; nor will it make you love the fact that his family thinks weekly get-togethers are perfectly normal.
Getting past it: First, be sure you're not guilty of putting your family of origin ahead of your married-life family; "for the long-term health of your marriage, that has to be your priority." And work on mutual respect. You have to go to his family's for Thanksgiving and endure the dry turkey and store-bought pies? Suck it up; it's what you do for the one you love.
Photos by, from top to bottom: Shutterstock (couple cleaning house) and iStockphoto (all other images).
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
Related Articles on WomansDay.com:The 5 Stages of a Marriage