Perpetual Issues: 69% of disagreements will never be fully resolved so couples need to argue in more effective ways.
Many couples go around and around the same arguments for years without either one ever feeling that they have been listened to. Because the problem is never resolved, every time their relationship hits a speed bump they find themselves rowing about the same key gripes — she won’t listen/he’s always nitpicking — and because neither of them feels they get a fair hearing they start to shout a bit louder and the argument escalates. It isn’t so much “what” is said as “how” it is expressed that is significant. Though it is never possible to wave a magic wand and immediately right every wrong in a relationship, when a couple sits down to try to “talk” about their problems it is actually far more important that they come away from the experience feeling good about the interaction than believing they have completely resolved the issue.vIn his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, the psychology professor and relationship expert John Gottman says “although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship”. Gottman analysed what it was that separated couples who are happy from couples who are miserable. Unsurprisingly he found that the most important predictor of happiness in a relationship is the balance between positive and negative feelings, but what is interesting about his research is that he quantifies the ratio as being precisely five to one, that is five positive interactions to one negative interaction. In his studies, couples who adhered to this formula were less critical, less contemptuous, less defensive, more enagaged with their partner and generally happier all round.
The triggers for domestic arguments are predictable. Financial constraints, crap sex, time pressures, work stress, childcare and relentless domestic chores. These are perpetual issues and according to Gottman 69% of the things couples disagree on will never go away or be fully resolved so couples need to learn how to argue in more effective ways. Couples often use topics such as money, sex or housework to fight for their deeper needs within a relationship. For example, an argument over who should pay for what may really be about where the responsibility lies and who’s got the power in this situation. Rows about housework are often about unfilled needs for respect and worth. And arguing about how often to have sex is nearly always about feeling loved and cared for and deeper needs for connection and affection.
The ways in which couples can increase the levels of positivity in their relationship are largely common sense: show interest in your partner; be affectionate; show you care; be appreciative; show your concern; be empathetic; be accepting; and remember to share your joy. But it is all too easy to become blind to the obvious in a long-term relationship. Gottman describes long-term relationships as being “like the second law of thermodynamics that says that closed energy systems tend to run down and get less orderly over time”. What he means by that is if a couple does nothing to make things get better in their relationship it will still tend to get worse, even if they don’t actually do anything wrong. As with houses, relationships suffer wear and tear from day-to-day use, and every so often they need a metaphorical lick of paint or new stair carpet to keep them looking their best.