When you spend almost every waking moment with your partner outside of work hours and are constantly interacting with one another, it’s normal that bickering will occur. It’s pretty much inevitable. However, it’s really all about how you bicker.
You get on each other’s nerves about silly, nit-picky details that don’t really matter. In my relationship, it’s usually over silly things like the fact I am taking my time in the kitchen while we’re getting dinner ready and he wants me to peel the carrots faster for our root medley before everyone comes over so it’s ready in time. Or simple things like the fact I just washed all of the bath towels and now they’re sprawled all over the bathroom floor covered in water. Maybe it’s as minimal as frustration that the other person won’t decide what they want for dinner. He ends up scrunching up his nose and making this “meh meh meh” noise at me and nodding his head from side to side or I’ll end up poking him over and over until we both crack and start laughing before things get serious. We bicker, but we never fight. It’s comforting to hear other people say the same thing, but it’s hard to establish what the difference really is between bickering and fighting. So what is it?
It’s really all about the style of ‘fighting’ that is going on. It’s normal not to see eye-to-eye with your partner 100% of the time or to have minor disagreements or frustrations with one another. It’s part of co-existing in the same space as another human being who has their own independent personality outside of your relationship. The primary difference between the two is about how the situation is handled and how you address the ‘conflict’ or frustration at hand.
In everyday life, annoyances like your partner’s indecisiveness, the fact they are running late, driving like a maniac, or being loud when you’re trying to rest are all things that may cause bickering. However, when bickering escalates to the point where you are unable to interact in a normal or civil way, you’ve transitioned from bickering to fighting.
Intentional name-calling, hurtful words or actions, yelling, or resentment towards your partner is not part of bickering. When your relationship and daily activities are put in a state of disarray due to a disagreement or frustration, you’ve entered the realm of arguing / fighting. It’s important to discuss what healthy bickering is and some unhealthy habits to watch out for when you get into a disagreement with your partner.
What’s the healthy way to bicker?
It’s important to have good intentions and to be in the mindset that you aren’t out to upset your partner or cause an issue. Little frustrations or annoyances are normal. Poke fun in a loving way, but make sure that you are not offending or hurting your partner. We get it, it’s normal to drive each other crazy (especially if you’re living together, married, or engaged). You don’t spend much time apart and you’re bound to find things that get on your nerves when it comes to your partner.
Bickering exposes what those annoyances are and gives you both room for growth and development together. It opens up a door for communication; if something seems to be more serious or seems to really be getting on your partner’s nerves, it’s time to have a more serious conversation an open up the door to say “Hey, I know we bicker about this / you poke fun at me about this a lot… is this something that’s really bothering you?” Building an open line of communication with your partner allows issues to be resolved or worked through fluidly and honestly before there is pent up resentment or aggression. Talk it out, listen to what your partner has to say, and work on it! Good-natured conversations where your partner expresses frustration or annoyance actually give you the opportunity to grow closer and address issues before they escalate.
You shared your frustration, you talked it over, and you didn’t let it ruin your day.
A huge factor when it comes to bickering is how it impacts your day. If you can talk things over with your significant other and go about your day and be positive without feeling bummed out, you’re doing something right! It’s important that these little frustrations aren’t ruining your day or causing distraction.
You can sit down and have a mature conversation about it later on.
Once it blows over, if you and your significant other can sit down and you’re able to say “Hey, I know we were bickering earlier, but it really bothers me that ……” and you can have a mature, serious conversation about the issue at hand, you’re doing something right. Finding a productive solution for an issue at hand that makes you and your partner happy is a huge step in the right direction.
What is classified as ‘unhealthy’ bickering that can lead to fighting?
You’re attacking your partner’s character or actions.
Be careful to steer clear of attacking your partner’s character or actions when you are bickering. Bombarding your partner with insults that question their actions, motivations, or character can be extremely detrimental to your relationship. When you start to question your partner’s character, you’re expressing distrust or dishonesty. Accusations that regard issues like cheating for example extend past bickering and fall into arguing — you’re going out of your way to attack your partner and are putting them on defense rather than having a cordial conversation that is lighthearted in nature.
You’re embarrassed to talk about the disagreement with your loved ones / friends.
No one wants to fight in public. We get that. What we mean here is that if you’re bickering about something that causes embarrassment / shame when you talk to your friends or family about the problem, there’s something bigger going on. Telling your best friend you’re annoyed that your boyfriend never helps wash the dishes or always eats your special breakfast bars before work is a super minor, silly issue that shouldn’t cause major discomfort to talk about. Bigger issues like cheating, lying, or name-calling for example are things that may cause embarrassment if you shared the situation with those close to you. If you feel like your significant other is doing something embarrassing, inappropriate, concerning, or dishonest that you don’t want others to hear you two bicker about, it’s time to have a bigger talk about it.
You continuously bicker over the exact same thing (and it is escalating / you can’t seem to solve the problem)
If you are constantly bickering about the same thing over and over again, maybe there is a bigger problem at hand. When you continue to bicker over the same issue, you’re storing pent up aggression and resentment towards your partner that is never fully going away.
If you are upset he is liking girls instagram pictures and you’ve brought it up twelve times already and you continue to bicker about it, it’s time to have a more serious conversation where you express why it upsets you so much or why you think the behavior is unnecessary. If she is always making a mess all over the bathroom with her beauty products and never cleans them up and it’s driving you crazy, let her know. Sit down and have a conversation where you can find a solution that works for both of you so she can be more organized.
These issues don’t have to be ‘big deal’ arguments. If it’s something that is consistently upsetting or bothering you, it’s important to discuss it before it turns into a screaming match.
You can’t laugh it off after the fact.
When you’re still ‘bickering’ an hour after the initial conversation began, you’re not really bickering anymore. You’re arguing. When you need time apart from your partner to cool down or be alone there is a bigger issue at hand. Bickering should never lead to the desire to create distance or separation; that is ‘fighting’ territory.
The desire to create distance could be that you feel attacked and are put in a defensive position. On the other hand, maybe you’re really upset with your partner and are being critical of their actions. In either situation, it’s important to understand that bickering is the expression of insignificant disagreements or annoyances — not major issues. You shouldn’t be upset hours or days after the fact. If you are and you can’t laugh it off, it’s time to have a more serious conversation.
You are using ‘fighting words’
When you start to intentionally hurt your significant other and say things that you know will sting, you’ve got a bigger issue at hand. You should never put your partner down or make them feel uncomfortable / defensive when having a conversation. When you begin attacking them or name-calling begins, you’re not accomplishing anything productive.