After 20 years in the legal industry, I have been privy to some of the nastiest fights imaginable, but in family disputes it really boils down to three main issues: (1) division of labor, (2) money and (3) time. These are limited resources for all of us, and when arguments erupt at home, I find it helpful to take a step back and ask yourself this before launching into World War III: what is the real issue?
The issue people often think they are fighting about isn’t the actual issue at all. Let me give you some examples:
1 Chores– Do you find yourself arguing about chores? That’s normal, but too often couples focus on who did or didn’t do what and really this rarely gets anyone to a better place. The real issue is that someone feels unappreciated, overburdened, and/or that the division of labor is unfair. Now since you can’t undo the past, you need to let that go. Instead, why not center the discussion on what could be done differently going forward? Everyone should be able to agree on what needs to get done, and that no one should be burdened with 100% of all the chores. After establishing some common ground, a couple should be able to divide up all the household tasks or decide to source out some of the work to another.
2. Money- Does it seem like someone is either being too controlling or a bit reckless about spending? Well, money is always a sore subject in families, and we often partner with someone that values money differently. Without passing judgment, try to dig a bit and learn how someone grew up– did someone’s family struggle financially? If so, then there might be a deep-seeded fear about being poor that cannot be glossed over. If someone was not taught money management skills early on, then efforts simply must be made to help that person understand the financial implications of certain life choices. Don’t just agree to disagree about money. Financial responsibility is critical to maintaining a healthy family because nothing creates more stress than financial woes. If your basic needs cannot be met, how can you enjoy life together?
3. Time– Do you keep arguing about how much time is spent outside the home or on someone’s electronic devices? This is a clear indication that someone feels neglected, or that s/he is not a priority to the other partner. The fact is we all have demands on our time that require us to spend significant amounts of time outside the home- work, kids activities, community outreach, along with our individual interests that may involve exercising and socializing with friends. This is all normal, but you still need to make time for some alone, quality time with your partner, and only together can you realistically set expectations of one another and what an appropriate allocation of time will look like to maintain a happy partnership.
Of course there are far more complicated issues that can arise in a marriage, including problems that surface when there is infidelity, abuse, addictions, personality disorders or other severe mental health conditions, and dealing with those kinds of issues definitely requires the assistance of a mental health professional. But absent these kinds of stressors, I truly believe issues about time, money and labor can easily be addressed if couples could just honestly talk about their feelings associated with these limited resources, and instead of trying to win each individual argument, they should switch the focus to finding solutions for the deep-seeded, underlying issues. That is really the only way to succeed in love– by creating the win-win for everyone involved.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.