Many couples get caught in constant bickering cycles for long periods of time. While not full fights, bickering still wears away at your connection to your partner and leaves you both feeling lonely. But it’s not impossible to fix a bickering marriage.
- Often couples bicker because of stress and being busy and tired.
- Bickering in long-term relationships can become a habit.
- You can stop bickering and learn to communicate in a healthy way surprisingly easily.
Couples fight even in healthy relationships. Aren’t niggles and a bit of bickering fairly normal with our busy, stressful lives? Although it may be understandable to disagree over certain topics, constant bickering is still one of the major reasons couples report feeling unhappy in their relationship.
Understanding the Causes of Bickering
Three main issues often cause bickering:
- Stress in your marriage, such as financial pressure, work stress, or external problems.
- Being busy, time-poor, and tired. Working long hours, busy family life, extra responsibilities on top of work and family, such as renovating your home or community work.
- Bickering has become a habit. Bickering can become a relational style over time. Noticing this is the first step to begin to change it.
When you are stressed and tired, time dedicated to your relationship can become squeezed out, adding to the bigger communication problem.
The Surprising Benefits of Bickering
Of course, avoiding conflict completely isn’t the goal of a marriage. Talking about issues is important for a healthy relationship, even if it feels uncomfortable.
Some moments of conflict are normal and can actually benefit a relationship.
If you can turn your bickering from fighting into open communication, it can lead to a better relationship.
Strategies for De-escalating Bickering
Going around in circles as you argue?
Does this conversation sound familiar? When you hear yourselves arguing in circles, take a 20-minute break. I tell my clients if they can’t resolve a small issue in 5-10 minutes and they are going round and round over the same ground, it’s important to hit the pause button.
Decide to take a break for a moment. Disagreements tend to escalate if you get frustrated. Recognize the need to shift gears and pace or to talk at a later time about the disagreement. Move to a new location or different activity and practice self-soothing if you’re worked up.
Stick to one issue
Jumping from complaint to complaint is another sign bickering has become a habit. If you’re wanting to solve an issue, focus on one problem and aim for a team approach with your partner rather than blame or criticism.
Try saying, “We’ve got off track. Let’s talk about ___ today and we can talk about ___ later.”
Stay curious about their point of view
We often come into an argument wanting to be understood by our partner. But it’s also important to try to understand our partner’s point of view. When you look at issues from both sides, you’re more likely to have empathy for each other and find solutions.
Try asking, “how is this for you?” Listen and show respect to your partner by being interested in their views.
Listen for feelings
Your partner may be bickering about the dishes, but what are they really feeling? Often, bickering occurs when people feel unappreciated. Or is your partner tired? Stressed about work? It can be easier to bicker about silly things than to address bigger relationship problems or feelings.
Try asking, “Are you okay? Are you feeling ___?”
Make repair attempts
When couples fight, a small touch on the shoulder, an inside joke, or a smile can be all it takes to change the atmosphere and start to repair any lost connection bickering has caused in your relationship. Inject something light or fun into your discussion.
Look for opportunities to make and receive repair attempts. Start with a gentle smile. You can disagree and still act like loving partners.
Improving Communication in Your Marriage
If bickering has become a habit, you may find it difficult to change how you communicate with your partner. You’ve become locked into a pattern.
The good news is often, one or two sessions with a good couples’ therapist can help you to find ways to break the bickering habit, become more aware of how you talk to each other, and develop some new communication skills.
Constantly fighting wears you and your partner down, even minor bickering. A qualified relationship therapist can help you address the bigger relationship problems and help you find ways to reduce bickering in the future.
Strengthening Your Relationship By Addressing Causes of Bickering
Healthy relationships need fun and quality time (without bickering!). A productive conversation about reducing the stresses and demands on your days will help you find more quality time as a couple.
- Get help around the home if you can. A babysitter, cleaner, or asking a friend or family member to give you a hand will free up some time to spend together.
- It may be time to examine what you can drop, hours you can cut, or ways to simplify your lives so you can prioritise your relationship and reduce stressors.
- Feeling physically connected to your partner can reduce bickering in a relationship. Spend 5 minutes hugging or kissing your partner in the morning. When you’re connected physically each morning, you may find it easier to change the tone you use with each other during the day.
- Be generous with thank you’s. Bickering can be a sign your partner isn’t feeling appreciated. Thank them often for their effort.
- Watch the balance of positive to negative interactions with your partner, too. At least 5 positive comments to 1 negative is a good aim. It can help to greet each other as friends when you walk in the door after work and remember some conversations are best saved for a later time.
Bickering wears you down and can become a habit. But you can break the bickering cycle.
Talk with your partner about what you might need to do to reduce stress and busyness and reconnect again. And if you still can’t break the cycle of bickering, working with a relationship therapist can help you to find new ways of communicating without bickering.
Do you need relationship help?
If you and your partner are considering trying marriage counselling, contact Clinton at (02) 8968 9323 during business hours to discuss your situation and find out how Clinton’s counselling services can help, or book an appointment online now.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.