Top 7 Most Common Topics That Lead To An Argument & How You Can Begin To Solve Them

December 16, 2021
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All couples have disagreements from time to time, but some ongoing conversations have the potential to be perpetual and corrosive. If couples do not find effective ways to engage around topics they continuously disagree about, such topics can create a wedge and lead to distance and pain. There are 7 main categories of conflict that couples tend to fight about again and again, often with little to no resolution. If you and your partner find yourselves spinning your wheels around any one of these topics, you are not alone!

7 Common Categories of Conflict for Couples

1. Inadequate Attention or Affection1This can show up in a fight about one person saying “I love you” more often, a half-hearted hug, a forgotten anniversary, or failing to ask about your partner’s day or express appreciation.  When attention does not feel reciprocal, mutual, and willingly offered, it can spark fears about how one’s partner feels about them or lead one partner to withhold love out of hurt for not receiving it. This tends to create an unhelpful pattern of withdrawal that leaves couples feeling in the red when it comes to positive regard for one another.

2. Jealousy and Infidelity1

This can sound like arguments about crossed boundaries, conversations with exes, but ultimately tends to elicit feelings of fear, insecurity, anger, and sometimes betrayal. 

3. Chores and Responsibilities1

Usually, this shows up in arguments about division of labor in the household and feelings of unfairness around who does what and when, as well as who is responsible for keeping a mental note of what needs to get done and delegating it.

4. Sex1

Sex is a loaded topic! Couples disagree about a variety of issues related to sex, including frequency, willingness, satisfaction, and discrepancies in desire. Because this tends to be such a vulnerable topic, it spurs a lot of insecurities (and consequently, can also spur defensiveness or reactivity). 

5. Control and Dominance1

Arguments around control, manipulation, freedom, and independence tend to be some of the trickiest to navigate, especially since there can be underlying issues of abuse that can be difficult to explain or can even feel unsafe. 

6. Future Plans and Money1

Couples can go round and round arguing about how to spend their money or time. This can lend itself to arguments around in-laws, where to live, whose career matters more, and work-life balance, just to name a few. 

7. Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes 

This last category overlaps with all of the previous six but tends to revolve most around conversations such as religion, life goals, politics, and co-parenting. 

We’re Doing This, Again?

Each of these topics tends to be repeat offenders – showing up, again and again, often seeming unresolvable. These sorts of discussions are highly inflammatory because they elicit some of the most intense feelings, such as anger, rejection and inadequacy, fear, disappointment, or even grief. Each of these topics also deals with three of the most important (and often competing) human needs: security, connection, and autonomy. 

These topics can bring out the worst in partners, especially if resentment has been building after repeated unsuccessful attempts to find common ground around such important issues. 

When Arguments Hit a Dead End, Check-In With Yourself 

So what exactly tends to go wrong in conversations that become unresolvable arguments? Some things to check in with yourself about:

1. Am I making negative assumptions about my partner’s character or intentions? 

When we make negative assumptions about our partners, we tend to engage in dialogue very differently – more defensively, with less curiosity and more unhelpful reactivity. If you find yourself assuming the worst about your partner or feeling contempt toward them, try and re-center yourself and approach your partner with positive regard. 

2. Do I understand how important this is to me and why? If so, have I given my partner a chance to really understand this importance? 

We often spiral into an unhelpful place in an argument because we aren’t personally fully aware of what we think, feel, or want. If we can’t explain the deep nuances of what we feel about a topic, how can we expect our partner to understand us on a deep level? This requires self-reflection and curiosity toward ourselves, as well as a safe space and curious stance from our partner when they are inquiring about our position (and vise versa). 

3. Have I been curious about how important this is for my partner and why? 

Similarly, if we find ourselves approaching our partner in a hostile or defensive way that limits their ability to explore and understand their own feelings, we are also limiting our ability to understand their position and the likelihood that they will try to understand ours. Being curious about our partner’s feelings, thoughts and desires require us to ask pointed questions with respectful curiosity aimed at understanding (not necessarily agreeing!)

4. Is there a personal insecurity of mine that this presses on? 

When topics come up that present a threat to our self-worth or feelings of security in our relationship, we tend to become more emotionally charged as we notice the cracks in our ego. If you start to notice yourself becoming more critical of yourself or your partner than you normally are, this is an important signal to be kind and compassionate to yourself. Also, if the relationship is safe, it can help increase connection to open up to your partner about what you are feeling afraid of or insecure about. 

5. Is there an underlying dream or value that this revolves around? 

Research shows that gridlocked topics tend to stay stuck when there is an underlying dream that is being unacknowledged or feels unattainable. Whether your partner aligns with all of your dreams, goals, and values or not, it is important for you and your partner to understand and know what each other’s dreams are. With more intimate knowledge about what is most important to your partner, the more goodwill and curiosity a relationship tends to have – and curiosity and good will tend to foster more understanding! 

Approach Arguments in a Way That Fosters Connection

a woman in a rust colored vest hugs a man in a tan jacket outside

Arguments are not problematic in and of themselves, but they can detract from connection depending on the way couples navigate them. The biggest mistake couples make when getting stuck in an argument is assuming that there needs to be a winner and a loser – someone whose point is more valid, and someone who concedes. However, the most effective way to resolve long-standing issues is by deepening understanding of one another’s positions, not necessarily agreeing with them. This requires partners to manage difficult emotions and approach their partner with genuine curiosity. 

1Lopes, GS, Buss DM, Abed MG, Individual Differences and Disagreement in Romantic Relationships, Personality and Individual Differences, November, 2019.


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