The Four Relationship Rows That Cause Most Of The Trouble

Commissioned by The Times Jan 2010
Relationship conflicts are natural unless you live in a coma. On the other hand, unlimited rage is bad for your health. So how do you draw a proper line between safe anger and mutually assured destruction? It helps, says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, if you can first decode and avoid that verbal invitation to relationship suicide known as the ‘innocent row’.
1. You think that money grows on trees…
The charge before the court is that you run a credit card on heat, share Gordon Brown’s indifference to debt and remain convinced that buying two dozen lottery tickets will make you a millionaire when you’ve slightly more chance of being kissed by the Queen. You might even get criticised for depriving the children of their education and threatening the roof over their heads. Your ratty partner’s ultimate fear is the loss of adult status owing to penury. Points of friction include how high to set the thermostat to whether you eat out-of-date food.
Remedy: it’s not just about the economy, silly, but underlying mistrusts. When love’s in trouble, we turn to power, the simplest form of which is our ability to purchase. Thousands of British spouses now hold secret escape funds in the event they have to divorce, and even more conceal their income or lie about bonuses. But if you want to improve your relationship, and reduce the rows, you will spend with new insight having first divided the family budget into “Untouchable”, “His”, “Hers” and “Whatever’s left”.
2. You’ve moved my stuff…
When you hide vital clothes on ‘obvious’ hooks in cupboards or secrete treasured possessions in their ‘customary’ drawers, your partner suggests this guileless act of tidying up is a personal onslaught on their sanity, safety and survival. This can escalate into the charge that you are a worse control freak than the average Nazi. Your partner’s underlying fear is that they will suffocate beneath your flamboyance and alleged indifference to boundaries. It applies to all the respects in which you and your loved one have conflicting organisational styles.
Remedy: compromise is all – agree to disagree. If one side “wins” in this power struggle, the relationship dies and you are the idiot who fashioned your own fate. It would help to receive some written reassurance: “The 47-item clothes’ mountain has now been relocated to the washing machine forecourt”. Remember that when two people marry they NEVER become one.
3. You never, ever listen…
You are accused of not paying enough attention to your partner, ogling an attractive body during a family conference, persistently breaking a promise to collect goods from shops and forgetting that it’s your turn to look after the kids. On a bad day, you’ll be labelled an incompetent communicator with a remedial level of emotional intelligence.
Your partner’s problem is the fear that you no longer sufficiently identify with them. They desperately probe for evidence of your loyalty and understanding. Successful relationships are based on the degrees of similarity between the parties because true opposites make lousy spouses. But the energy behind this row is the ultimate dread of estrangement and breakup. Common trigger factors include rudeness and your suspected restlessness or actual infidelity.
Remedy: You have to improve your rate of successful listening and come up with spontaneous gestures that salve the basic wound – like intuiting his or her need to be complimented and/or abandoning that stubborn little affair.
4. Your trouble is you’ve changed…
This versatile line can be used to complain that there’s too much or too little domestic sex; that you’ve gained or lost weight; no longer wish to stand on a football terrace or profess enthusiasm for Hebridean craft work. It can be escalated to cover a hatred of the politics you formerly espoused, especially on subjects like public borrowing and global warming. The intrinsic fear is that you have broken an unconscious promise “always” to supply the same goods and services to your other half. Sadly, change is the order of the universe – if you disagree, try living for 140 years and see how far you get.
Remedy: Any long-term alliance HAS to cope with the friction of years. Recognise that you and your partner need to embrace change at roughly the same rate or else. Negotiate your way through irreducible differences. You may still want to get drunk three nights out of seven and act like an idiot but this is only acceptable if your partner is also an ageing rocker. Otherwise, when you complain “Your trouble is you’ve changed!” they’ll retort: “And your trouble is you haven’t!”
Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (

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