For many couples, bickering is an everyday form of communication. You can't find the car keys? He must have put them somewhere stupid, right? He's making you late yet again. And while you're on the subject of his many shortcomings, he still hasn't mended that squeaky door. And so it goes on. The final few minutes before you leave home are taken up with an exchange of insults and accusations that will – usually – be forgotten within an hour or so. Until the next argument, that is.
You may not be too worried about these daily disagreements – particularly if they've been part and parcel of your lives together for years. However, constant bickering could be a warning sign that your relationship is heading for real trouble, experts have warned.
Are you in a 'distressed relationship'?
Around 18 per cent of UK couples have regular arguments, and many may be close to breaking up, according to new research by Relate. Almost half of the 21,000 couples surveyed say they quarrel at least occasionally, while nearly seven per cent report 'severe' argument levels. What's more, 10 per cent of partners admit they sometimes regret getting married or living together in the first place.
'It is hugely concerning that 18 per cent of UK married and cohabiting couples are in distressed relationships,' Relate's chief executive Chris Sherwood comments. 'Broken and unhealthy relationships can lead to debt, loneliness, health problems, depression, homelessness, criminality and can have a profound effect on children's life chances. Families can't go on like this.'
Find out what could be causing your marriage problems
What's the point in arguing?
Think it doesn't apply to you? Don't be so sure. You may not be hurt or concerned about your silly squabbles – but do you really know how your partner really feels? And even if neither of you is particularly worried at the moment, these arguments can still weigh you – and your relationship – down over time. You may have convinced yourself that bickering with the person closest to you is a safe way of letting off steam, but there's really nothing 'safe' – or loving – about hurling insults at someone.
So before you fly off the handle again, try stopping to give yourself a quick reality check. 'Ask yourself how your "bickering" is serving the relationship,' advises integrative psychotherapist Hilda Burke (hildaburke.co.uk). 'Is it actually making things worse? If so, reflect on whether it's more important to be "right" or to have a better relationship.
'Often, bickering is a clear sign of a power struggle, with one partner desperate to get the upper hand. Reflect on how you would like your relationship to improve and, crucially, how you can both make changes to address that. This is often all it takes in order to put the brakes on the urge to bicker.'
Find out how to stop arguing with your partner
Where can you turn for help?
Still, old habits die hard – and it's not always easy to break the cycle of accusations and counter-accusations. And that's when it can be a good idea to seek some expert help. 'Couples counselling can be very useful if you're locked in a vicious cycle of disagreement,' says Burke. 'Working with an independent, neutral "outsider" can help both of you gain a sense of perspective on how your behaviour is contributing to the situation, rather than always focusing on what the other partner is doing wrong.
'Most of the couples I've worked with initially find it very challenging to shift the focus from their partner on to themselves, and assume some responsibility for their issues. But when they finally manage to do so, it can lead to profound change within the relationship.'
Ultimately, bickering is a complete waste of time, and simply causes unnecessary stress and anxiety – even if it's part of an otherwise happy, solid relationship. So it makes sense to stop it as soon as you can. And come on, admit it: your car keys were in your pocket all along, weren't they?
Think your relationship may be in trouble? For more information and advice, contact Relate.
Find out how relationship counselling could turn your marriage around