How To Decide What Is Truly Worth Arguing About
It’s always interesting talking with couples about arguing in their marriage. Some say they never argue, thinking arguing is a negative thing. Others freely admit they argue a lot, and they like the making up part. Still, others say they argue about anything and everything, so they’re left asking, “how to stop arguing with your spouse.”
It might surprise you to learn research indicates it isn’t necessarily the amount of arguing that matters—how much couples argue is not always an indicator of the quality of their marriage—it’s how you argue that makes a difference. If you find yourself always trying to be right and wanting to have the last word or “win” rather than seeking to understand where your spouse is coming from, you’re probably in a dangerous place. Healthy conflict is an essential part of growing together as a couple. It’s more important to engage in healthy conflict than to have a lack of conflict altogether.
A study from The University of Tennessee Knoxville took a deep dive into what couples argue about. Couples ranging in age and years of marriage who all described themselves as happily married were asked to rank the issues they tended to argue about from most to least serious—most serious being issues that came up often and least serious being issues that were less likely to result in conflict. Among the most serious were topics such as intimacy, leisure, household chores, communication, and money. Jealousy, religion, and family fell on the least serious end of the spectrum.
Why? Happily married couples tend to focus on issues with clear solutions. It’s not that jealousy, religion, and family are never talked about. Most happy couples find that these aren’t ongoing struggles—they’ve long been on the same page about their faith stance and what they value most in their family dynamic. However, talking about how many times they want to have sex each week or what the monthly budget looks like are more frequent discussions that can lead to arguments.
The bottom line is it’s not about avoiding arguments. It’s about how you argue with your spouse that matters. There are several useful takeaways from this study to consider. Though you may not “stop arguing with your spouse,” these strategies will help you decide what’s truly worth arguing about.
Choose your battles. Early on, it might be more difficult to decide what a mountain is versus a molehill. Should you roll your toothpaste tube or squeeze it in the middle? Should the toilet paper roll go over or under? Does the laundry detergent go in before or after the clothes? You may be rolling your eyes, but these are some of the very things that often escalate into hefty arguments.
At the end of the day, you may decide to have two tubes of toothpaste, to let the toilet paper roll go as long as there is toilet paper, or to let whoever is doing the laundry choose when to put in the detergent. Making a conscious effort to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict doesn’t eliminate it, but it’s less likely to lead to prolonged marital dissatisfaction.
Seek to be solution oriented. Couples who work together to find solutions to problems seem to be happier in their relationship because the team effort reinforces security within the relationship. For example, when you and your spouse work together as a team to establish a solution for balancing household chores or deciding how to spend leisure time, you build confidence in your ability to tackle more complicated issues. When difficult conversations around family dynamics arise, you feel more prepared to work through the conflict because you’ve been successful up to this point in addressing lesser conflicts.
Prioritize issues. Talk about which issues need resolution right now versus what can be set aside for the time being. Sometimes, taking time to process can make all the difference. What seems like a hot issue today may not be in the future. Some of the most challenging issues come to better resolution after a period of simmering, where you have time to gather your thoughts. This could be a few hours, days, or even weeks. Though it’s counterintuitive to culture, at times, there is no quick fix. It may help to think and talk and repeat the process over several times to solve certain problems well. The key is communicating with each other through the process and agreeing to check-ins to discover new insights.
No matter what stage of marriage you’re in, there will always be something to argue about with your spouse. Reminding yourself that your spouse is not the enemy is important. Instead of figuring out how to stop arguing altogether, make intentional decisions about how you will engage with each other during arguments, so you don’t negatively impact the health of your marriage.