Long-term committed relationships are hard.
There are massive benefits to them, of course, but it's challenging to live with someone day in, day out. You've got to cooperate, negotiate, communicate, and connect every single day (if you want to keep the relationship thriving). Add kids to the mix and things get even more interesting.
The fact is, your personal and professional life, as much as you'd like to be totally separate, are inextricably linked. When things are going well at work but badly at home, it can be a problem--and vice versa.
It's best, therefore, to be aware of common roadblocks in the romantic sphere. Here are the 10 most common fights long-term couples will have:
1. What do we spend the money on?
Study after study shows that the two biggest things couples fight about are money and sex. Does the kitchen really need to be renovated (again)? Are we going to send the kids to public school, or a $15,000/year private school? Did you really need to buy another scarf?
What you want to spend money on (and when) reveals critical things about your values and priorities. The most common couple pairing is for someone who likes to save, to be with someone who wants to spend. Savers and spenders tend to attract one another ... then fight about it.
2. How often do we have sex?
Couples therapists call it "desire discrepancy" when one person wants sex more often than the other in a relationship. It's a common issue in marriages and long-term partnerships. At the extreme, it can become a sexless marriage (see the excellent TEDx talk The Sex-Starved Marriage).
Fortunately, therapists say most couples' actual desire discrepancy is small; partners just think it's massive. For example, when asked separately, "How often would you ideally have sex per week?" a wife might say, 2-3 times, while her husband says 3-4 times.
They only differ by 1-2 times per week, but when asked, "How often would your partner want sex?" the wife in that example will say, "If he had it his way, we'd do it all the time--three times a day!" while he says, "If it were up to her, never! Maybe once a month, maybe."
The perceived differential is far bigger than the actual one.
3. Where are we spending Thanksgiving? (Do we have to go to your parents' again?)
The role of family members and extended family in a relationship is critical ... and tricky. Holidays are extra hard because where you spend which one impacts a lot of people--the two of you but also your parents, grandparents, etc.
Where the holidays are spent also brings up general boundaries around family (and the accompanying disagreements). This includes questions like, "When they come to town, how long do they stay?" "Where do they stay (do they stay with us)?" and, "How much time do we spend with them?"
4. Were you just flirting with her?
Jealousy. If you're both truly into one another, it's inevitable that it will come up in some form or another.
This fight can also look like, "Why are you still friends with your ex on Facebook?" (That one is always fun.)
5. Who's doing the dishes?
Sharing household responsibilities is a common source of stress, especially if things aren't clear. Who takes out the trash? Who's in charge of the finances? Who deals with household stuff like calling to set up the plumber (and who'll stay home from work to meet him)?
Sex therapist Vanessa Marin says that when it comes to chores, "One person almost always feels like they're carrying more of the load than the other."
The best way to deal is to have an explicit conversation about household responsibilities as soon as you move in together. Agree to be responsible for certain things and see how it goes. If it's not working, have another talk. Be proactive and don't be afraid to get into the details (i.e. does taking out the trash include putting in a new bag?).
6. Why do you have to [drink] so much?
Or smoke, or play video games, or watch Netflix, or fill in the blank with any other behavior that impacts you and the relationship.
Everyone in a serious relationship ends up wishing their significant other would either do something, or stop doing something.
7. Are you mad at me? (Are we OK?)
How you deal with anger is something you usually learn from your family of origin. Whether you tend to be passive aggressive, clear and straightforward, or aggressive and defensive, you have an anger pattern and so does your partner.
Knowing how to talk about your upset, then have a repair conversation, is arguably the most critical relationship skill you can have. One study even showed that couples who were able to be openly angry in the beginning of their relationship were happier long-term.
8. When are you going to get another job?
Losing or quitting a job is stressful. And it's highly likely to happen to either one or both of you at some point during your relationship.
When one partner loses a job, there's a fine line for the other partner to walk between being supportive and being encouraging. You want to be understanding, but there may also be financial concerns that need addressing.
9. Why are you still working? (Why aren't you spending more time with me)
Once your partner has a job, then you've got to negotiate how much time the two of you spend together. Fast Company's article nails it: "What To Do When Your Crazy-Long Hours Are Ruining Your Relationship."
It starts off with a few common refrains:
- "So I take it you won't be home for dinner again tonight?"
- "Didn't you have to go into the office last weekend, too?"
- "Gotta say I don't feel like I'm much of a priority lately."
How much your partner works can impact your sense of your importance in their life. The underlying issue in this fight is almost always, "Do I matter to you?"
10. What are you doing on your phone?
Technology. Social media. Distracted thinking. These are the consequences of a constantly-connected world, and it impacts couples in an intimate way.
It can be painful to feel ignored, which is a common feeling when your partner is on his or her phone while you're together.
Some couples institute rules to combat this and protect couple-time (no phones at the dinner table; no phones after 9pm; no being on your phone when we're having a conversation in the car, etc). Smart.
Because it's natural to have disagreements in a relationship, it can be hard to know whether your level of fighting is healthy or unhealthy.
Sex therapist Marin does offers some practical guidance: "If it feels like you guys are fighting more often than not fighting, and that you guys are fighting dirty, you're probably not a good fit. If you fight every once in awhile and do it relatively skillfully, you're probably fine!"
It's also worth nothing that if you think you as a couple need a little help or guidance, it's worth investing in a couples counselor. In fact, it could be the best investment you ever make.