60-Second Mind

The Real Concern When Couples Fight

New research reveals that nearly all fights between romantic partners can be distilled into two fundamental complaints. Christie Nicholson reports

Fights between couples are personal. So it makes sense that the passionate ones are rarely about the actual content but rather are typically about something else entirely.


But what is the “something else?”


Well for a new study published in the journal Psychological Assessment scientists created a questionnaire and gave it to 3,539 married couples with ages ranging from 18 to 85 years, and with length of marriages ranging from one year to 61 years. They then analyzed variables such as the words couples chose to describe a past fight, and the self-reported feelings and behaviors while each were in the throes of fighting.


They found that every argument, covering everything from laundry to string theory, resolves itself into two fundamental complaints: One person feels that he or she is being blamed or controlled, unjustly, for something that has nothing to do with the argument, or one feels neglected, and this manifests in the feeling of “you don’t really care about me” or “you are not as invested as I am.


Past studies have shown a couple’s ability to manage conflict is crucial in terms of long-term relationship quality and stability, physical health, and healthy outcomes for their children.


So it behooves each partner to clearly understand the real reason behind their behavior. Why doesn’t he want to have Thanksgiving dinner with your family? And why does it bother you so much?


—Christie Nicholson

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