Money, the kids or the garbage: Why couples really fight

23 Jan Money, the kids or the garbage: Why couples really fight

In my practice I often see distressed couples. Many of them seek my help because of frequent fighting. What do couples fight about? Mostly money, house chores, disciplining the kids and relationships with in-laws. Through the process of therapy, however, we uncover the real reason why they fight and it usually goes much deeper than those topics; couples usually fight for LOVE.

In therapy, I often invite couples to describe their last significant fight and then a previous fight they can both recall. The partners will then each recount their perception of what happened. While the partners each describe the fights I look for recurrent patterns that make up their fights. Maybe one of them tends to start the fight with a complaint, pursuing the other partner, while the second partner tries to avoid a fight and withdraws. Maybe they each blame one another and “up the anti” until they both “explode.” When these patterns are uncovered and become clear to both partner we dig even deeper to try and find out what feelings fuel those patterns, whether there are old wounds that come into play during their fights or recent hurts or sense of dissatisfaction.

Time and again we find in therapy that feelings of anger and resentment are fueled by deeper feelings of being unloved, unaccepted or not important enough. Many times feelings of being unloved or not loved enough diminish partners’ willingness to be generous with their time, effort or affection in the relationship. It also affects partners’ willingness to be vulnerable in the relationship and, in the absence of vulnerability, deep love seems to be elusive. In therapy we gently encourage both partners to open up and allow themselves to be really seen by the other; to become vulnerable. At the same time, therapy moves cautiously to allow both partner to feel safe in the relationship as it is only when partner feel safe to be vulnerable with each other that true love is possible. When partners feel truly loved they tend to be more generous, collaborative and forgiving; they are more likely to allow their partner to influence them and are more likely to care for and about their partner. So what do couples really fight about, or for? It’s not really about money or the in-laws. The answer is, unequivocally, LOVE.