Don’t be worried if you argue with your spouse every now and then. It generally means you care about the relationship, said Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center.
“All couples who are invested and present in their marriage will fight,” she said. “A total absence of conflict can be a serious cause for concern.”
That said, constantly arguing isn’t healthy, either. Below, therapists share seven common reasons couples can’t seem to avoid the same old fights.
1. You’re stressed about other areas in your life.
“If you let stress get the better of you, it will creep into the relationship and there’s really only one place to put it: onto your partner,” Brittle said. “In my experience, most conflict is about how partners talk to each other, rather than what they’re talking about.”
To curb this behavior, Brittle tells couples to cultivate an “us against the world” mentality.
“That usually helps reduce the stress of your job or your kids or your finances and gives you a reason to bond together,” he explained.
2. You keep revisiting unfinished business.
If you can’t stop fighting about one issue in particular, give yourself the time and emotional space to reflect on what the conflict is really about, LaMotte said.
“If you grew up with a lot of financial instability, conversations about money may feel exceedingly charged even if you and your spouse have much greater financial stability than your parents. Be honest, is pain from your past driving an overreaction?” she said. “Acknowledging that you are projecting some of your own conflicts into an argument or admitting that unfinished business is triggering your intensity does not mean that you’re being weak or caving in.”
3. You give the silent treatment.
Refusing to talk or engage with your spouse in a meaningful way is a subtle but powerful way to keep an argument alive, said Kurt Smith, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in counseling for men.
“The silent treatment is used to hurt, punish, control and manipulate the other spouse,” he said. “Sadly, it often works, too.”
Instead of stonewalling your spouse, Smith said to open up to him or her about what’s bothering you.
4. You’re a nag.
People are nags for a reason, Amy Begel, a marriage and family therapist based in New York City, said.
“The most common scenario I see is where the wife appears to be nagging but she’s actually just responding to her partner’s apparent lack of engagement in whatever issue is at hand,” Begel said. “She ‘nags’ because he either blows her off, appears not to hear or is noncommittal in the argument. Nagging is an often unconscious attempt to engage the partner emotionally.”
5. You’re insecure in close relationships.
We all develop an attachment style based on how secure our parents made us feel growing up. If you’re constantly getting into fights about whether or not your spouse loves you, you may have attachment anxiety, said Marie Land, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C.
“Look and see if your insecurities are really about your partner’s action or if these are just long, deeply ingrained fears you’ve carried with you through many relationships,” she said.
Once you learn more about your attachment style, “a secure relationship with a loving partner is a great opportunity to heal from attachment anxiety once and for all,” Land said.
6. You’re hypercritical of your spouse.
“It’s difficult to get out of a fighting cycle if you’re frequently using criticism because criticism begets defensiveness,” she said. “Criticism essentially involves placing the problem within your partner.”
Some tell-tale signs that you’re too critical, according to Earnshaw? You start a complaint with “you” and use absolute words like “always” and “never.”
“Ultimately, these conversations become about proving a point rather than understanding, compromise or solution,” she said.
7. You grew up in a household where fighting was the norm.
If you grew up with parents who were always bickering, you may be modeling your behavior after them, said Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
“Because of your childhood, you may never have seen other, healthier ways to disagree that allow you to both stay on the same team even when you have different wants,” she said. “The good news is, other ways do exist and you can learn them. You just have to be open to it.”