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Couples: Be careful what you bicker about

08/10/2009

Be careful what you bicker about

 

Recent divorce statistics show that couples married for more than 30 years are now twice as likely to break-up as only ten years ago. Around age 40 men are as likely to divorce as men in their early twenties and older women are far more likely to divorce compared to 25 years ago. If you’re part of a longstanding, cosy-couple it’s time to pay attention.

 

Some experts speculate that older women in particular are increasingly happy to go it alone. I see the true sadness behind such decisions. It's tough doing so and many women tell me they wish they'd seen the signs before their relationship crumbled.

 

These surprising and sad figures beg the question of when a couple’s put years of effort into a marriage what sorts of signs were missed? Frequently it all comes down to bickering. For one couple it was the butter-versus-Benecol debate, he wanted lashings of the old-fashioned stuff and she’d gone on a health kick. The constant bickering led to their break-up.

 

I recently met Deborah, 51, who left her husband of 25 years fed up with his preoccupation with gardening. At least that's what she initially claimed. They had successful careers and she thought they were both vigorous people. However she longed to travel and he was content to spend weekends on “his” garden. Deborah concluded that she was the only vigorous one, no longer wanting to squander weekends while he pottered with his plants.

 

It transpired they'd constantly bickered over their spare time but never resolved it. From Deborah's perspective he didn’t take her wishes seriously and ultimately that threatened their relationship. Being taken for granted rather than gardening per se undermined her self-worth. Bickering had been allowed to disguise this deeper issue.

 

Theirs is a classic case of what some might consider a "sweet little bit of bickering" in longstanding couples. You can imagine their friends’ comments, "The gardening? They bicker so much about it but really they love each other."  In this context bickering is more dangerous than having arguments. At least in a proper argument partners see how angry the other is and hopefully deal with the issue. However such bickering is an insidious way of communicating. It’s a slow drip, drip, drip like water torture. Unchecked it can erode the most solid stone.

 

Making our lives greener is the one issue my husband and I have bickered about recently. We’re both going the whole hog inside our home continually making "green" changes. But we squabble over him driving his large company car to work.

 

He's now agreed to leave it at home once a week and take public transport meaning our bickering is close to being resolved. I say “close” as I cunningly plan to get him to leave it twice a week. Yes, I recognise there are days where he needs a car to get to far-flung meetings and or take clients to events. But on the other days there’s no excuse.

 

You might think a green issue is quite extraordinary for a couple to bicker about. Again, it's not really what the issue is but what you do about it. Becoming aware that you're circling around something like a bird of prey may push you towards resolving it. For our part we understand that our bickering is simply about bridging a gap between our green beliefs and our actions. We will get there. Otherwise, thankfully when a disagreement arises we sort it out rather than bicker over it like a dead carcass.

 

"Green" bickering aside couples bicker over some quite frankly bizarre things. From the way one husband sneezes loudly and his wife bickers about him stifling these, to the couple who bickers over how to groom the family cat - he uses a fine comb, she says the brush is best! Or the couple that bickers over the barbecue and how to perfectly sear the steaks, to the ones bickering over how best to clean the windows – glass cleaner or scrunched-up newspapers.

 

Whether your bickering revolves around mundane issues like gardening, pet grooming, sneezing or searing steaks, explore where it's leading. The £64,000 question is: does it symbolise something deeper, darker, and more disturbing? Here's a few suggestions to help you sort out bickering that’s blighting your relationship.

 

Bickering is frequently about a bigger issue that one or both partners find difficult to talk about honestly. Break the cycle when you’re not actually bickering. Over a relaxing glass of wine bring up the issue in a light-hearted way. Pre-prepare a couple solutions or compromises. Ask your partner for their opinion and show a real willingness to listen.

 

If it's something that you simply don't agree about, e.g., the best way to groom your pet, do a little soul-searching, is it more important to be right or happy? Be generous of spirit and tell them you’re happy to do things their way. Sometimes budging on one issue means that on the next issue you'll get your way.

 

Always keep the language you use straightforward and avoid beating around the bush. Because essentially that's what harmful bickering is - beating around the bush of the real issue. Take turns speaking and don't interrupt when your partner speaks. Showing such mutual respect can prevent future bickering.

 

Refuse to be part of the bickering cycle. If your partner continues you can simply change the subject rather than get dragged into what by now must seem a boring old routine. Finally, ignore bickering at your peril or you may be bartering over a divorce settlement. Now, where's my husband gone in that gas-guzzling car?

 

Published in The Express Newspaper

 

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