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Marriage Advice: Stop Having the Same Fight

If you two keep having the same fight, break the habit and have a much happier marriage.

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Laurie Puhn
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

Almost every couple has one: that seemingly trivial fight that just keeps cropping up, day after day, month after month, making you feel as if you're stuck in your very own version of Groundhog Day. Perhaps it's about your husband's leaving his cereal bowl by the sink rather than in the dishwasher, or your forgetting — oops! — to tell him that his mother called. The issues that trigger bickering can seem insignificant, but when fights keep on resurfacing, your otherwise happy marriage can become a petri dish of resentment and hurt feelings — the kind that leave you and your beloved sitting in different rooms watching the same TV show.

I know this not only because my husband and I face our own challenges, but because as a family mediator, I counsel couples who want to work out these dumb little fights that eat away at their quality of life. One client, Wendy,* 39, from Long Island, NY, was fried from exactly this kind of bickering. "Why is it always such a battle to get him to spend an hour helping our sixth grader with his math homework?" she asked. Their arguments about homework would invariably segue into the same dead-end battle: "You never help me with the kids."

"That's not true," her husband, Steven, would counter. "I put them to bed a lot of the time."

"Yeah?" she'd say. "Well, that's only because I make you!"

Round and round they would go, adding new layers to the argument, each trying to win and prove the point "I'm right!"

Having the same fight over and over is, of course, pointless, but it's where many couples get stuck. Once you're deeply engaged in the battle of whose turn it was to take the clothes out of the dryer, it's hard to step back. That's where mediation comes in. It requires that a husband and wife each realize that the goal isn't to beat the adversary into submission. It's to make the fight go away.

Think about it: Typically, one person's winning a fight means the other person loses, but in a marriage, the two people involved are on the same team. No matter who "wins," everyone loses. When a standard bickering bout ends, one of you will have been cornered into saying, "Fine, enough already! You're right" (though not necessarily believing it), but neither of you will have gained a deeper understanding of the other's point of view.

Beyond that, the battle's loser is quite likely to have some residual anger simmering, which will wind up igniting the next fight. And that's hardly the way any of us want our couple time to unfold.

So winning a war of words in marriage has to mean something entirely different — namely, finding a solution to cool off the hot-button issue and resolving the fight so it simply vanishes. I'm not saying it's easy to get past that urge to win. But I promise that trading that seething "See, I'm right!" sensation at the end of a spat for the halo of warmth that a happy, respectful marriage has is totally worth it. (Wendy and Steven, who no longer lock horns over their son's homework, would agree.) So put on your mediator's hat and follow these three guidelines:

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