I spent the weekend with my best friend and her family. It’s always very interesting to spend time with other couples in this way. Not that I spend my time analyzing couples outside of the office (maybe just a little in line at Aldi), but I do like observing people and reflecting. Watching a few of their more vigorous interactions (a rather intense discussion on the merits of washing oneself in the shower with soap versus body wash and another about bacon), I got to thinking about the differences in the way couples communicate.
With some, this bickering in relationships could signify a larger problem. It certainly would for me and my husband. It doesn’t appear to be the case with my friend and many others, I’m sure. Deciding to discuss this observation with her, she mentioned that others have told her they noticed them bickering a lot, too. Do these kinds of interactions leave either of them feeling disrespected, hurt, or defensive? “No,” she said. He answered the same and added, “It’s how it’s always been.” It almost seemed playful between them, as if they value the ability to be brutally honest over the use of courtesy within their relationship. Sounds funny, but knowing her as I do, this fits.
There are several articles out there “normalizing” the act of bickering between couples. Here’s one, for example. It’s entitled, 20 things all married couples bicker about. Sounds good, right? I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find one that says bickering with your partner will save your marriage. I’m not going to go that far, but what I will say is that it may not spell trouble. When working with couples, I usually look to the motivation behind words and the feelings that arise following the interaction to signal problems. Couples usually make the call for therapy when the negative interactions start to outweigh the positive, bickering or not!
Good news for my darling friend!
For more information on negative interactions outweighing the positive within relationships, read John Gottman’s work on the “Magic Ratio” of 5:1. Five positive interactions to every one negative interaction.
-Stephanie Martin, MA, LMFT, Therapist Extraordinaire
Image provided by www.freedigitalphotos.net & Ambro