We spoke to relationship therapist Shirlee Kay to find out about the most common reasons for relationship bust-ups, and how best to avoid them…
Words by Hannah Butters
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been together or how much you have in common, confrontation is unavoidable in all relationships, and according to relationship therapist Shirlee Kay, it’s much better to be dealt with head on, rather than brushed under the carpet.
Clashing with your partner is completely natural – a way for us to clear the air and reach a respected compromise, some arguments however tend to resurface time and time again.
Maybe you didn’t replace the milk or perhaps your partner just can’t get on with your parents or maybe your libidos just don’t match up.
We sat down with Shirlee and picked her brains on the most common couple fights and how to tackle them effectively…
1. LACK OF COMMUNICATION
‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing’. We’ve all experienced that exchange of words from both sides, and neither feels great. A lack of communication is a slippery slope and a proven one-way street to a build up induced argument – heightening insecurities, mistrust and causing resentment. Pushing your partner too hard can cause hostility yet not enough and you’ll create a wedge.
What should you do? ‘There is no point in forcing your partner to open themselves up if they are not ready or able to’ explained Shirlee, instructing us to take note of their body language and respond in a respectful manner, championing the effects of creating a safe place where a couple can talk judgement-free. ‘Being open yourself communicates that it is safe and beneficial to your partner. Baby steps.’
A difference in sexual preference, libido and available hours can cause a lot of heated tension, and when sexual needs are not met, a sense of frustration will take hold, making both parties feel guilty and self-conscious and making the disagreement much more intense than it needed to be.
What should you do? Shirlee suggests open and encouraging conversation, ‘Identify exactly what you are unsatisfied with and how you might be contributing to this issue,’ she advises. ‘Ask when a good time would be to discuss this with your partner. Clearly and specifically discuss it without blaming them. Discuss what it is you would like to be different.’
General home maintenance is a global argument starter, with the housework ratio very rarely evenly split in couples. People’s standards of cleanliness will always vary and if one person is doing the lion’s share of the work, arguments are inevitably going to arise. ‘I always wash up – why couldn’t you do it just once?’ ‘If you’re this lazy about homework – what can I expect you to be like if we have children?’
What should you do? Shirlee encourages partners to ‘point out that their expectations are different.’ By opening a conversation that aims to instigate change ‘there is an opportunity to compromise between their expectation and yours.’
4. JEALOUSY/ INSECURITY
Jealousy and insecurities can make us completely irrational, planting thoughts in our heads that, most of the time, are no cause for concern whatsoever. Whenever you feel that green-eyed monster creeping up on your relationship, bare in mind that you chose each other, no one else.
What should you do? Communication is key. Never be scared to talk to your partner about your insecurities, Shirlee advises, ‘State what it is that has made you feel insecure and allow your partner to tell their side of the story.’ The first stage of overcoming a problem is to talk about it.
When two people with their own financial circumstances enter a relationship and link lifestyles, the issue of money and who spends what can put a lot of strain on the relationship. Tensions can build when incomes and outgoings are not equalised, and it gets worse for those in long-term partnerships with the added pressures of debt, mortgages and the struggle to make ends meet.
What should you do?
Talk about it with your partner and let them know your financial situation in detail – even how much you put away in savings each month – then work out from there the best ways to combine your financial plans. ‘This helps couples put contents to what they bring into the relationship,’ says Shirlee, ‘Be honest, open, and don’t blame’.
Spending time with our own families can be challenging enough, but unwillingly spending time with our partner’s is another story. Relatives are part of the relationship package and experiencing anxiety or awkwardness towards the in-laws is not uncommon. Our natural instinct is to take offence, going into protection mode and fiercely defending our family, but their feelings are normal and better tackled calmly.
What should you do?
‘Don’t assume your partner is against your family,’ advises Shirlee, ‘try to explore why they feel uncomfortable in the company of your family. Be curious and empathic and don’t personalize it.’ Putting your partner first and voicing concerns in private will help avoid any relative-related arguments.
The chances are that you were raised differently to your partner – every family has their own way of caring for children, and it’s likely you’d want to use your own life experiences to raise yours. Most couples disagree on parenting techniques from time to time – it’s your child in question and that parental instinct can make you blind to anything but what you think is best for your child.
What should you do?
If you’re thinking about having children, outlining your expectations and how you would like to parent are ideal, Shirlee explained, ‘Remember that you are on the same side.’ You both want what’s best for your children and ‘celebrate the difference in parenting style, and see how it might benefit your children.’
Visit coupleworks.co.uk to see more of Shirlee’s work