15 Types of Arguments That May Mean the End of Your Relationship
Can you tell if your spats have veered into territory that relationship experts identify as concerning? Check out the warning signs—and what you can do about repairing your bond.
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In any relationship, words are powerful
There are some of us who speak without thinking or make a harsh statement that—while the aim is to get our point across—may be fueled by emotions that, in the moment, can make us forget how careful we need to be with the feelings of someone we love. Words can do lasting damage to the feelings of someone we love and the closeness within the relationship.
Some arguments bubble up naturally in a relationship, and can even lead to opportune moments to reflect on your values for the relationship and grow closer. Other arguments are simply negative and unhealthy and may mean it’s time to break it off. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidelines to help you determine whether what you’re experiencing or engaging in is violence or abuse—defined as:
- Physical violence is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, or using another type of physical force.
- Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching, or a non-physical sexual event (e.g., sexting) when the partner does not or cannot consent.
- Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.
- Psychological aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another partner mentally or emotionally and/or to exert control over another partner.
For other types of arguments, here are the dynamics experts suggest you look out for to know whether you and your partner is nearing the end.
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You show a fundamental disrespect for your partner
It starts with a mild complaint like “You didn’t do the dishes.” But it can escalate into a general criticism such as “You don’t help around the house.”
That can evolve into passing judgment on personality: “You’re a selfish, lazy slob.” It’s the difference between a “state” (not washing the dishes) and a “trait” (you’re selfish). It’s the “selfish, lazy” label that hurts the most.
“This doesn’t happen overnight, but it gradually chips away at the foundation of your marriage,” says Lesli M. W. Doraes, a marriage consultant and coach with a private practice in Cary, NC, and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work.
Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of Don’t Lie on Your Back for a Guy Who Doesn’t Have Yours, says arguments should never start with “you”: “‘You’ language is synonymous with finger pointing like ‘You did this, you did that,'” says Dr. Carle. “Where can a partner go from there? He can only come back with attacks on you. Before you know it, disrespect is rampant, nobody hears the other, and the true grievances you have go unheard and unresolved.” You’ll be surprised by these other secrets of happily married couples.
When you fight, you insist that you’re right
Yes, it can be tough to say, “I was wrong,” but in a relationship, sometimes you’ve got to. “My grandma used to say, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?'” says Bonnie Winston, a matchmaker and relationship consultant.
No one is right 100 percent of the time. Instead of figuring out who’s right, figure out how to make things work. “When fighting about small things with your significant other, try to let them go,” says Winston. “Of course, the issues that mean the most and are important to you can be argued over, but in a mature way.” She recommends taking the time to come up with exactly what you want to say. “Candidates in a debate don’t raise their voices and spew out unrehearsed words,” says Winston. “The ones that are the most effective have a well thought out viewpoint.”
Feeling like you need to be right really can impact your relationship. “The need to be right in an argument is divisive and can lead to resentments in the relationship, especially over time,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship consultant and author. “If you can’t remember that you’re a team, and focus on the root of what’s really causing conflict, there’ll be hurt feelings that can create desires for separation.”
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You disagree about having kids
You likely talked about having kids before you got super-serious, but feelings can change. “If you’re not on the same page about having kids, this will lead to resentment,” says Brooke Wise, founder of Wise Matchmaking. “Being a parent is a huge commitment physically and emotionally. It’s not something you can just compromise on or do for the other person. You have to be all in or it won’t work.”
It’s unfair to talk someone into or out of having kids, says Doares. “Parenting is hard enough when both people are on board,” Doares says. “Being talked into it will only create resentment.”
You’re having the same argument again
Here you go again—but believe it or not, you may not be arguing about what you think you’re arguing about. According to The Gottman Institute, repeating conflict in your relationship can represent the differences in your lifestyle and personalities. Sometimes couples argue about day-to-day things when, in fact, they’re releasing tension that might be coming from larger underlying conflicts. “This might lead to divorce if you let the arguments seriously escalate, if you fight dirty, shut down, refuse to talk, or excessively blame,” says Marni Feuerman, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Boca Raton, FL.
You may need to compromise and do some give and take to end the constant battles and differences.
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You argue about sex
If one of you wants sex and the other doesn’t, that can be a tough repeat-conversation. “Because of the innate physical and emotional vulnerability of sex, this can be a hard hurdle to get over,” says Laurel House, a relationship coach. “But it’s essential. Without physical touch, you could create a feeling of rejection, which can lead to insecurity, resentment, anger, and rebellion.”
In fact, a study done at the University of Toronto-Mississauga found that sex more than once a week didn’t make couples happier. But it also found that if the sex becomes less frequent than weekly, that’s when happiness declines. “Intimacy is a critical part of a healthy partnership,” says Hall. “If you’ve experienced a lack of intimacy for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably leading to a disconnect within the relationship.”
According to House, you need to talk with your partner about the lack of sex when you’re both calm and in a place where you can be open and vulnerable. But don’t just talk about the fact that you aren’t having sex. “Talk about why you aren’t having sex,” House suggests—whether it’s boredom, disinterest, distraction, priorities, insecurities or maybe a physical issue.
You argue over chores
Letting the laundry basket overflow can harm your marriage more than you may realize. A 2015 study from the University of Alberta suggested that people in more egalitarian relationships have higher relationship satisfaction and more sex than couples who don’t divvy up chores. If you’re in a relationship that you feel is fair and balanced, you usually don’t mind taking on certain responsibilities or chores. But if you feel it’s imbalanced, you’ll resist doing that laundry. You want to feel understood and valued on a deep emotional level.
Mike Goldstein, a relationship coach, tells us he experienced this in a relationship: “When we first started living together, it drove me crazy when she left dishes in the sink,” says Goldstein. “I’d ask her repeatedly to put her dishes in the dishwasher. However, I found a way to love her more when I see dishes in the sink: Now, when I see the dishes, I’m reminded that she made us an amazing dinner. If there were no dishes, that would mean she didn’t make dinner,” says Goldstein. “Now, I’m grateful when I see dishes in the sink. It reminds me how lucky I am to have an awesome fiancé who cooks for us.”
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You argue over family
If you feel that your partner hates your family or vice versa, you can end up resenting each other. Yes, you can talk about how to deal with each other’s families, but you have to be nice about it. “If you’re going to make critiques or comments about your partner’s family, it should be done in a way that’s respectful to your partner and mindful of his feelings,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, a dating consultant. “Since family connections run deep, your partner may feel personally insulted or attacked by less-than-kind words about his family. And if you’re trying to change your partner’s mind about his family, this can end up changing his mind about you as a result.”
If discussions about extended family always lead to one or both of you getting heated or hurt, over time, this could be something that’s essential to evaluate. Family law attorney Gina Vrobel in St. Marys, PA, says, “When your partner hates your family or vice versa, in my practice I’ve seen too often: that’s the point of no return for the relationship.”
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You fight about lifestyle choices
One partner likes to go out and socialize with friends constantly. The other is a homebody who is an introvert. “If someone in the relationship is still partying like it’s 1999 and the other isn’t, it will most likely spell trouble,” says Winston. “The partner who is a homebody will be made to feel that they’re ‘not enough,’ making the outgoing partner feel guilty.”
Sure, opposites can attract. But these differing lifestyles mean that you have to find a way to compromise and meet in the middle. If no one can be flexible when choices aren’t in tune, then you may have a problem. Winston suggests that as many times as the partier goes out, he or she should make their partner happy by staying home and making a meal.
You fight about money
It’s inevitable that almost every couple will fight about finances at some point—it’s a sensitive issue. But when you can’t agree on how to make, save, or spend money, you may be entering concerning territory. “The top-earner in the relationship shouldn’t take complete control over spending,” says Winston. “It’s imperative that decisions are made jointly, whether it is where to take a vacation, or what and how much to spend on holiday gifts.”
She suggests that if someone is better with money than the other, one decides on the budget and the other manages the bills and makes sure spending is on track within the mutually agreed budget. Setting joint financial goals is one of the 16 relationship resolutions every couple should make for a happier, healthier life together.
You fight about a loss of love
If one of you doesn’t feel the same connection as you once had—and this goes on, and on, and on—your relationship may be fizzling. Maybe you’re not as connected as you used to be, perhaps confiding more in your best friend than your partner. “Anyone who shares her grievances with her best friend—and that’s what women usually do—has unwittingly set up triangulation. The problem with triangulation is that you’ve invited a third party into your relationship,” says Dr. Carle. “She’s the one who hears your complaints, and your issues are talked out by the time you get back to your love interest. So, he thinks things are just fine.” She suggests keeping your love relationship out of your discussions with friends.
Feuerman adds that you should speak up when you feel disconnected—sooner rather than later. “Emotional connection is the heartbeat of a relationship, she says. “If it goes on for too long, someone is likely to check out for good and end the relationship. Disconnection also makes a partner more vulnerable to emotional or physical affairs.”
Your fights turn into personal criticism
“Criticizing your partner is one of the fastest ways to create an irreparable divide between you,” says Hall.
All you have to say is “Can you unload the dishwasher for me?” Instead, you say: “Why can’t you remember to unload the dishwasher?” Now you’re criticizing the person, not the task. You’re attacking your partner’s character. “Attacking who they are will lead to hurt feelings and animosity. It can quickly lead to the end of the relationship.”
In fact, Andrea Syrtash, a relationship thought leader and author, says research has shown that attacking someone’s character is a relationship deal-breaker. “Name-calling (‘You’re lazy’) is disrespectful and cuts off communication,” says Syrtash. Instead, she suggests talking about how you feel and trying to find a solution. “Say something like, ‘It upsets me when I come home and the dishes are everywhere. Can we come up with a better system for housework?’ and invite dialogue,” she says.
Try learning a few tricks from happy couples who fight fair.
You argue about why you ever got together
Ideally, you have warm feelings about the first time you met her mom and dad or when the two of you shared a cone at the ice cream shop. You don’t want to ruminate on memories such as the time he turned up an hour late for your best friend’s birthday party. “If your time together is spent rehashing the bad times rather than enjoying the present and being excited about the future, you may end up having a future without each other,” says Lloyd.
When positive memories are fading, you may be emotionally distancing yourself from one another. “It’s easy to focus in on the negative within your partner, as you start to blame them for what they aren’t instead of appreciating them for who they are,” says House. “But the fact is that all of us have our negatives. If we choose to shine the flashlight on that, soon all the other supporting negatives will be illuminated too, as the many positives are ignored.” Remind yourself of the good times by watching your wedding DVD or clicking through Facebook photos together or try one of these 28 things every couple can do right now for a happier marriage. House suggests scheduling dates during which you spend focused and uninterrupted time together recalling the good memories or events that made you laugh. “This is your chance to remember why you fell for each other in the first place, appreciate each other for who you are and stop blaming each other for what you’re not,” she says.
You never fight
When the fighting stops, it may signal the beginning of a breakup—that you’re too emotionally detached to care. “Remember that your love interest liked you just the way you were when the two of you met,” says Dr. Carle. “He enjoyed hearing you argue your point of view. If you suddenly withhold your passions about something, question whether you’ve given up your personal power. Fight for what you believe, and your passion will continue to turn your honey on.”
When you don’t discuss your problems, inner conflict can fester and build. “When trust and communication are gone, and neither of you is even bothering to fight it out, it’s unlikely you’ll fight for the relationship either,” says Hall. “Avoidance can signal the end.” Here are some relationship deal breakers that could signal it’s time to move on.
You fight about how you fight
“Most fights are about less-than-important issues,” says Goldstein. “Realistically, do dishes really matter? Not that much.”
But if name-calling starts, then the fight becomes about something else. “When this happens, you need to realize the fight is escalating and take a timeout,” says Goldstein. “You and your partner should only argue when emotional levels are low and both parties can speak calmly and be supportive of each other.”
House explains that we all bring past experiences and expectations into new relationships. “You need to have a conversation about how you each are used to fighting and what you both think is the most productive and loving way to voice your disagreement without causing further distress.”
You fight about trust issues
“If there is infidelity or a break in trust, it’s hard to come back from that,” says Wise. “He can be remorseful and say and do all the right things to make you want to stay. But how do you know this won’t happen again?”
It can be hard to resume your normal relationship if you’re always doubting his commitment to you. “Trust is a hard thing to earn back,” she says. Here are some bad relationship habits you need to let go of.
- Lesli M. W. Doraes, a marriage consultant and coach with a private practice in Cary, NC.
- Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert.
- Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert.
- Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert and author.
- Brooke Wise, founder of Wise Matchmaking.
- The Gottman Institute: "Overcoming Gridlocked Conflict."
- Marni Feuerman, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Boca Raton, FL.
- Laurel House, a celebrity relationship coach.
- APA: "Skip the Dishes? Not So Fast! Sex and Housework Revisited."
- Mike Goldstein, founder of EZ Dating Coach.
- Stacey Laura Lloyd, Dating Expert for LiveAbout.com.
- Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author.