She Said, He Said: Continuous bickering, arguing is sign it’s time to clean out emotional spaces
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
From the outside, it looks like my wife and I have an ideal marriage. Our friends and family often make comments about how lucky we are to still be best friends after nine years together. We truly love, respect and appreciate each other, but behind closed doors, we’re constantly short and irritable toward one another. When we met it was a whirlwind romance that swept us both up quickly and completely. We traveled all over the world together, abandoning the lives we were living for this amazing adventure. Now that we’re a little older, we’ve both felt the urge to slow down and settle down, but without all of the stimulation and distraction we’re just getting on each other’s nerves all the time. How do we actually have the relationship everyone thinks we have?
Signed, Is Our Adventure Over?
Jeff and Lori: The love, respect and appreciation in your relationship has forged a strong foundation for your marriage. But, like many couples, you’ve become careless about what you’ve piled on top of it.
Lori: You’ve had an incredible chapter of life, both as individuals and as a couple. And now it’s time to begin writing the next one. You’ve transitioned to a steadier pace intuitively but not necessarily intentionally. Without thoughtfulness about what this next phase of life represents and how to align it with your values, you’re both left feeling more untethered. If you haven’t yet pinpointed the exact feelings swirling in your discontent, that’s the place to start.
When couples are deeply entwined (as any whirlwind-travel-the-world-together-for-years relationship would induce), partners tend to become lightning rods for each other’s emotional charges. They project unwanted and excess energy on one another. Partners often become complacent, falsely assuming the other will always be there and that showing up as your less-than-ideal-self time after time won’t have devastating consequences. Additionally, individuals often come to believe that their dissatisfaction is the fault of their mate. It’s much more convenient to place responsibility for unhappiness externally than it is to do the hard look within. And, when your partner is always there, front and center in your environment, they become the easy target for blame.
Jeff: In one of his comedy bits, Rodney Dangerfield reflected on his relationship: “We sleep in separate rooms, we have dinner apart, we take separate vacations — we’re doing everything we can to keep our marriage together.” All joking aside, it can be really good to miss your partner. Sometimes we need time apart to do the things that give us a sense of identity, value and worth (outside of the relationship) and then come back together and share the stories of our individual journeys, regardless of how small they might be — a short hike or night out with friends still counts.
Being together by default, without intention, can create a sense of resentment and staleness that can dull your connection. This dynamic has been particularly relevant during the pandemic, with couples being forced to spend a majority of their time together without many of the outlets for individual activities they once had. Be deliberate about both your time together and apart. Too much routine togetherness can make you take each other for granted and cause you to forget what you truly appreciate and value about one another.
Lori and Jeff: Being together through all of the ins and outs of daily life can easily lead to mutual irritability. Continuous bickering and arguing is a sign that it’s time to clean out the emotional spaces within and between you. Carve out intentional time to reconnect to your best self, clear out resentments, air out festering conflicts and put effort into building the relationship everyone thinks you have.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.