We asked the Neufelds to share some of the most common argument triggers they encounter in their practice -- and some practical ways to resolve the conflict.
Argument trigger No. 1: Technology
Quality time is always at a premium for couples who put in long hours at work, have community commitments and for whom being at home does not necessarily mean being off the clock. The good -- and bad -- news is that our computers and cellphones make us accessible anywhere. "Quality time is a big deal for couples," the Neufelds confirm. "These days, if one partner sends a text and doesn't receive a response in a minute, it raises questions right away. 'Where are you?' 'Who are you with?' With all of this technology at our fingertips, trust issues are being acted out constantly."
And when you factor in how easy it is to keep in touch with exes via social networks, to reach out to strangers on dating sites and to access each other 24 hours a day, technology can certainly become a bone of contention.
The solution: "We advise couples that if you want to send an email or text that might be about a touchy subject, give yourself time to walk away, then come back and give it a reread. People tend to blurt things out [electronically] without thinking and they bring things up that they might not say in person." Additionally, things can be misinterpreted in an email or text message. Remember that the person on the receiving end has no body-language or tone-of-voice cues to help them interpret your message. So if there is a chance your message might be misread, think twice about sending it.
Argument trigger No. 2: Keeping score
In their practice, the Neufelds often encounter disconnected couples who are caught in "blame cycles." "We ask them: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship?" says Bob. "This behaviour just pushes the other person away."
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The solution: How can couples learn to let things go? By learning to compromise. The Neufelds advise that "couples need to consider their own belief systems, and if one or the other feels that they are being controlled or that their needs are never going to be met, they need to communicate those feelings to their partner." So pay attention to your feelings, and speak up when you feel yourself entering another round of the blame game.
Argument trigger No. 3: Money
This is a perennial on any list of relationship hot topics, and the Neufelds agree that it's a big one. "Money means different things to different people, depending on their upbringing." Let's say a couple decides that they will both start bringing their lunches to work so that they can save money for that big trip or new house or down payment on a car.
"If one partner continues to buy their lunches while the other sticks to the plan, what might seem harmless to the spender might feel like sabotage (conscious or unconscious) to the saver."
The solution: Unfortunately, we can't return to our childhoods and rewire our attitudes about money. The Neufelds believe that the solution lies in creating agreements. "Talk about [money], express your feelings around it, avoid secrets and make clear agreements which you both intend to keep."
Discuss and decide what unique arrangement will work for your own relationship. For example, if one of you makes more money than the other, it might make sense for that person to contribute a larger percentage toward your common goal. The details of the agreement will vary, but the skills you'll build in learning to make clear, solid agreements will serve your relationship well in the long run.
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Argument trigger No. 4: Communication
Have you ever walked away from a discussion with your spouse thinking it was settled, only to have the problem come up again days or weeks later? The Neufelds say that this is common couple miscommunication.
"People think that they have come to an understanding because the other party said nothing. Listening is not agreeing." The argument is triggered when we mistake our partner's lack of response for agreement.
The solution: You need to be tuned in during conversations and exchanges with your partner. If you would like to have an important discussion with your partner about where you will be spending the upcoming holidays, or whether you will have children, get married or adopt a puppy, you probably already know to wait for an appropriate time, with no distractions. But to avoid an argument later on, remember the Neufelds' advice: "The agreement may come later, but you have to hear someone first to come to an agreement."
In any conflict, it's important to keep your goal in mind: Is it important that you are "right," or do you want to resolve the situation to the mutual benefit of both parties? Relationships are about compromise, and with the right balance you can minimize the impact of these common argument triggers.
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