Do you argue with your partner? I do. If you don’t, frankly, you’re weird. Or passive aggressive. Or just passive. Or all three. It doesn’t matter – the thing is, partners disagree. Perhaps the disagreements don’t make it even to the argument/discussion stage – but the disagreements remain. I expect most relationships have much the same arguments most of the time. Here’s my guess at the top 10 reasons for relationship conflicts:
1. Sex. This is one of the most likely to be unexpressed, as bringing up the subject can make both parties self-conscious when they get in between the sheets, and losing self-consciousness is what sex is all about. However, the differences can be summed up pretty simply. Either one partner wants more, or one partner wants less, or – in a worst-case scenario – both.
2. Tidiness/cleanliness. Never have there been two people who had exactly the same standards in these areas. To one person, the other will always be a slob. To the slob, the other will be a control freak. Accepting these differences and that there are limits to the amount that the other is capable of changing, is the secret of solving this conundrum. Or, on the other hand, arguing.
3. False memory syndrome. Many arguments are not about the facts of what happened but how it is remembered. Everybody mythologises the past in order to put themselves in the best light. So when it comes down to trying to work out what went wrong when you had a disagreement, it becomes very hard, as each party uses imagination to supplement memory – indeed, create memory. As therefore you can never quite agree on common facts, this is rich territory for conflict.
4. Messing with the cooking. Let the cook do it their way – even if it’s very, very wrong.
5. Blame addiction. One thing most of us don’t grow out of is that when things go wrong, we need someone to blame. We find the force of circumstance too threateningly random an explanation. Introverts blame themselves. Extroverts blame other people. This is why they often end up together.
6. Who decides what’s best for the children. If you have a family, a large number of arguments are about the right way of bringing up the kids. Once upon a time it was clear – it was the mother. Or the father, depending on which era you choose. Now it’s anybody’s guess. Of course one can try quiet, rational negotiation between two adults leading to a sensible mutual outcome. Or one can ask a magic fairy to intervene. Either are equally likely.
7. Interior design. Once again this used to be one partner’s domain – the woman’s – but now metrosexuals like me insist on Elephant’s Breath rather than Jade Coral, or the Eames chair rather than the ironic Ercol.
8. Money. Who earns most? If you earn five times what your partner does, should you split it evenly with them? Answers on a postcard …
9. Relatives. Perhaps you like her sister a little too much. Or perhaps your mother thinks she’s not good enough for you. Or perhaps her father is a dickhead but she has failed to realise it and thinks he’s Atticus Finch. The gap between your own perceptions of your family and your partner’s is usually considerable. Also, the way your parents relate will have provided you with a template, consciously or unconsciously, for the way you relate. Truth is, there’s no getting away from relatives, even when they’re hundreds of miles away. If you are in a melded family, take all these difficulties and multiply them by 10.
10. Holidays. It’s the gap between hope and reality that is the killer. They – like Christmas and birthdays – are petri dishes for disappointment, and disappointment leads to conflict. Because you look for someone to blame (see No 5). Also there is the concentration of social interaction – habits and annoying idiosyncrasies that are bearable, even endearing, during the course of a working week quickly turn toxic when you’re together 24/7.