Snoring. Leaving the toilet seat up. Neglecting chores. Driving styles. What to watch on TV. What to have for dinner. Noisiness. Certain time-consuming and/or expensive hobbies. This is the stuff of petty arguments in marriage. Like a trickle of water that slowly erodes a rocky cliff, petty arguments can diminish a happy marriage over time. Nevertheless, having disputes about silly things is common between most husbands and wives.
It’s no wonder. Who in the world can spend as much time with someone as a married couple does with each other and not get annoyed? Day in and day out, year after year, for decades, spouses are by each other’s side. Tempers are bound to flare. You’ve never heard anyone say they’d take their husband or wife with them if they had to be stranded on a desert island, have you? Without the ability to step away from one another every now and then, married folks would probably end up committing murder and breaks are necessary to keep things fresh.
Sometimes constant bickering can be indicative of deeper resentment between two people. Instead of discussing the big issue, a husband and wife will spend all of their time “taking each other’s inventory”. As soul-sucking as it is to perpetually be snarky with each other, it’s easier than dredging up what’s really bothering us. Differing ideas about money management, clashing parenting styles, and questionable extramarital relationships can be deal-breakers and many folks don’t want to go down the long, arduous road of solving these tough, and often awkward, problems. Intervention by a licensed therapist or religious leader may be appropriate in these circumstances.
For couples who have very open, healthy communication, but just happen to engage in bickering, it can be quite normal. If you’re going to engage in petty arguments, and you probably are, try to abide by these rules:
- Fight fair – No cheap shots! Maturely discuss your partner’s offending action rather than attacking his character as a whole. For example, say “would you mind wiping up your freshly shorn whiskers from the bathroom sink?” rather than saying “you are an ignorant slob!” Name-calling will only put your spouse on the defensive and cause resentment. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they are doing something annoying and appreciate the tip off.
- Be empathetic – Maybe your spouse had a really difficult day at work or is suffering from a headache and the last thing she wants to hear when she walks through the door is you complaining about what she threw into the crock pot that morning. Put yourself in your partner’s place and time your venting accordingly. Additionally, it’s a wise move to ask when a good time is to chat about something that’s been on your mind before doing so. Your wife will be more apt to listen to your feelings when you consider hers.
- No ultimatums – No one likes to be painted into a corner. Telling anyone, let alone the person you’re supposed to love the most in the world, that they must comply with your demands or else, is a foolish move at best. Making ultimatums is akin to one adult making the other feel like a child. This is dangerous territory to enter as a married couple.
- No fighting in front of the kids – Kids don’t understand innocent bickering. To them, Mom and Dad are being mean to each other and it scares them. No matter what age a child is, it’s unfair to make them witness your arguing and teaches them that this is how they should solve life’s problems as well. If you can maintain some level of decorum and maturity, and illustrate how to constructively communicate your differences with each other, your children will learn to do the same. Protect your children’s sense of security and peace of mind by staying civil in front of them.
- No fighting in public – Have you ever innocently gone to the supermarket for a peaceful shopping trip only to be forced to hear the Bickersons argue loudly about whether to buy rye or pumpernickel? Talk about annoying. There is not a soul on the planet that cares to witness your inability to get along with each other. In this instance, the Bickersons should have brought a pre-made shopping list, or should have purchased both selections. Leave the pettiness at home.
- Don’t drag a third party in to take sides – Nothing makes for a more awkward situation than when a married couple tries to get a friend or family member involved in their argument to take someone’s side. Not only does this put the poor person in a horrible position, but it also complicates matters with a third party’s opinion in the mix. This can cause an extreme amount of animosity in the spouse who’s side was not taken if the friend chose one over the other. Keep people’s noses out of your business for their sake and yours.
- Don’t withhold affection to get your way – This is immaturity at its very worse. How ridiculous to deprive your spouse of hugs and kisses just so you can get that expensive purse you’ve been wanting. Nothing makes a married person more resentful than being given the cold shoulder as a way of manipulating them. Put on your big girl panties and get over yourself.
- Compromise – It’s much easier to meet each other half way than to completely submit to someone’s wants and desires. If your spouse wants to see a historical romance movie and you want to see the latest action film, choose something you can both enjoy, like the comedy movie starring that actor you both find amusing. Why not make everyone happy? Go see the action flick on your own time.
- Abide by the old cliché of not going to bed mad – There is no worse feeling than waking up in the morning mad at your partner. It’s almost like an “angry hangover” and can ruin your whole day before it even begins. Let the last words you hear from each other be “I love you” before going to sleep at night.
- And finally….be nice to each other – It’s so sad to see people be so kind to perfect strangers and then turn around and treat their spouse like trash. If you feel negatively towards your husband, pretend he IS a stranger and carry out the discussion in a formal, polite manner. You might be surprised how much you get accomplished in doing so.
Petty arguments are a natural part of marriage. It’s our way of letting off steam to the one person we know will love us no matter what. Keep that in mind and avoid taking that very special person for granted. Play be the rules and you’ll both win!