You’re the kind of person who avoids conflict. Your husband, on the other hand, seems to relish picking fights. It’s driving you crazy, but is it a serious problem in your marriage?
The answer is “it depends.” Let’s look at some reasons he may argue with you.
#1: He Just Likes to Debate
Some people just love to spar over politics, which “Avengers” movie was the best, where to order pizza … and on and on. For others, this is exhausting. That being said, very few people actually enjoy aggressively stirring up real arguments.
If he’s a debater and you’re not, the important thing is realizing that the two of you have different styles, and that you must learn to peacefully coexist.
“Respect” is really the key word here. If it suddenly feels like he’s talking about you, instead of, say, politics, pay attention. There’s a big difference between “I disagree with your candidate” and “You’ve got to be an idiot to vote for that guy.” And the latter statement is a sign of a deeper trouble in your marriage.
#2: He Wants to Talk EVERYTHING Out
You and your husband may be different in how much you feel a need to discuss things. Maybe you usually shrug off little annoyances, but he tends to make everything “a thing.”
You grit your teeth and put up with his family. He doesn’t hesitate to tell you how much your mom drives him nuts. You don’t say a word when he’s binge watching his favorite show. He lets you know he’s unhappy with the amount of time you spend on Instagram. Why can’t he chill out?
Maybe he came from a family where everyone expressed themselves openly, and your family was more reserved. Or, perhaps you were taught to let little things go, and he wasn’t.
Whatever the case, there isn’t necessarily a “right” approach. Some people with great marriages don’t express conflict openly. Others bicker all the time. The frequency of your arguments isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on in them. As long as you remain respectful, you’re on solid ground. (See “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”)
Possibility #3: It’s Really About His Unmet Needs
Unmet needs can sometimes also be the source of intense conflict. The influential psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, noted:
criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic
expression of an unmet need.
Could this be true of your husband? Is it possible his agitation is really about a need that’s not being met? Maybe he wants more time with you? More appreciation? Consider listening deeper for that unmet need rather than joining him in the fight. How would your response change?
Now this doesn’t mean that he has license to yell or throw tantrums and to expect you to read his mind. He has some responsibility to ask for what he needs. You have every right to ask that he be calm and constructive.
No matter which one of these scenarios applies to your marriage, please know that you and your husband can manage it together. Understanding the reason for the disagreement is important in helping you determine how to respond. Next time he picks a fight, I hope you’ll start by asking yourself, “Why is he arguing with me?”
Overall, strong marriages are built on honesty and being authentic with your spouse. But is it ever OK to tell a little white lie to your husband? What about withholding information?
Two spouses can have different, but equally valid, ideas about honesty and boundaries in marriage. The key thing is recognizing and working with your differences. Here are a few key things to remember.
Your Past Is Yours
For some people, intimacy means that partners are open books to each other. They want to share all the details of their past and want their partner to do the same. But other people may be less forthcoming. And that’s fine.
You should, of course, be honest and share with your husband information that affects your marriage (and expect him to do the same with you). For example, if your first marriage ended because of your ex’s infidelity, being aware of that helps your husband understand who you are in your relationship with him.
But being honest doesn’t mean you are obligated to reveal every detail of your past. If the discussion about your ex turns to your sex life with him, you’re within your rights to keep that information private between you and the other person.
Think Before You Critique
Here’s another way that couples can have different ideas about boundaries and honesty in marriage. Let’s say you have a blunt, let-it-all-hang-out philosophy. You were raised to “be real.” You don’t hesitate to tell your husband he loaded the dishwasher wrong or that his brother’s political views are crazy.
While this type of openness may have been normal in your family, your husband might interpret your behavior as an attack on him or his family. When it comes to honest critiques of your husband, it’s possible to tackle even a big issue – like the fact that you’re doing more than your share of housework – with kindness and respect. And consider letting the little stuff (like his quirky dishwasher-loading technique) slide.
The same holds true when you give your honest opinion about others close to him. You’re in emotionally charged territory here. There might be a time when you do need to call out one of his family members (“When your brother was talking about politics, he said something really sexist and disrespectful to me.”), but be careful about being “brutally honest.” Your husband might be perfectly fine rolling his eyes about his brother’s latest theories right along with you…or not. In any case, if you need to set a boundary of respect, go ahead and do it honestly, clearly, and respectfully.
Answer With Care
So we know unsolicited feedback can be risky. But what about when your partner asks you a question and you know your honest answer won’t make him happy? The cliche example of this situation is a wife asking her husband if an outfit makes her look fat, but either partner can find himself or herself on the receiving end of a tricky question. Before you answer, think about why your partner is asking the question in the first place. Chances are, he’s seeking affirmation or reassurance from you. Think about how you can answer the question with kindness and gentleness in addition to honesty.
You can use this article as a springboard to talk with your husband about how each of you approaches honesty and openness in situations like these. Does talking about past relationships make you feel intimate — or uncomfortable? Would you rather know what’s on each other’s minds, even if it’s hard to hear? Again, there are no right answers. The important thing is that you’re curious about understanding each other and committed to navigating differences in communication styles and openness.