Most couples still rely on two incomes, not just to pay for extras like dinner and a movie, but to cover bills. And even though finances make the top 3 of what couples fight about, it takes more than an economic implosion to make couples cranky.
Smart relationships know that money isn’t the only thing that’s limited: time and energy are, too. Budgeting what’s in short supply helps insure that resources are there when needed. That’s the wisdom behind budgeting the time to fight. Budgeting makes partners examine what’s really important to hold onto so that fighting is a storm that passes, not a 3-day hurricane that sleeps on the couch.
Here’s what healthy couples know about how important it is to budget fighting:
1. They understand the need to keep fighting in the budget. Fitting fighting into a relationship budget is just as important as allocating any other resource. Didn’t know fighting was a resource? It is. Fighting clears the air, demonstrates passion, expresses problems and aims at solving them, and risks vulnerability in order to build trust. At the same time, smart couples know to draw the line on smothering each other with agreement. Budgeting for fighting recognizes the need the relationship has for vulnerability, safety, honesty, respect, mutual responsibility, and trust – and to know they’ll never be perfect at it.
2. They develop the budget together. Fighting all the time is as unhealthy as never fighting. But how much is too much and what should fighting with each other look like? Wise couples agree that two rules are universal: Never include abuse of any kind – verbal, physical, emotional, sexual; and resist the impulse to involve children, even grown children, by seeking their advice or comfort, or downplaying a partner. Partners benefit from skills like self-talk, time-out, and self-calming techniques. After that, couples develop their own best-fit ways of fighting.
3. They learn to budget effectively. If you haven’t had experience budgeting, or haven’t been successful at it, listen up: The best way to get in over your head is to spend more than you take in. Saying you “don’t have time for this” and relying on a relationship credit card doesn’t work for long. Busy couples explore and express what each needs in order to stay connected. They regard the needs and wants of each partner as an important budget item. These couples don’t spend time on jealousy, blame, disregard, or distrust. Clearing the closet of hidden agendas keeps you aware of what’s happening. They avoid finding out later that something’s wrong now. Think of fighting as a steam valve that periodically releases pressure from building up to dangerous levels.
3. They prioritize fighting with other budgeted items. If it’s true that the average couple spends about 20 minutes of time together per day then any busy couples’ time is limited. Saying “can we talk?”as you’re getting in bed violates the budget unless both partners have agreed beforehand to take time from one place (sleep) and put those assets into another (problem-solving). Is watching television as important as catching up a partner’s day? What about personal time? Where does “shared activity” fit in? How about lovemaking? Limited time together means, perhaps unfortunately, that we aren’t yet as rich in available resources as we’d like.
4. They evaluate the budget from time to time. A budget that works is one that reflects reality. Changes in a couple’s life affect the stress levels that so often predict fighting. Budgets are reflective of relationships themselves, which are dynamic and colorful. Tuned-in couples know this and pay attention. They learn that the circumstances that made for an argument can disappear with understanding, humor, and choice. They set limits, describe rules, and delineate what’s important and how important something is.
A bloody nose is an attention-getter, forcing you to pay attention to what’s standing in front of you. Successful couples don’t need to bloody each other’s noses: They know that expressing healthy disagreement is as important as food in the ‘fridge; that there are rules to fighting, especially ones about abuse; and that a good fight clears a path to what’s really going on.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist who works primarily with couples, especially those whose relationships are affected by visible or invisible disability. Her Russian/Sicilian temper and David’s passive-aggressive style have challenged them to come up with a “budget” that works for their marriage. They live in Colorado with their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, whose fur flies only in fun. Read about the Skinners’ Couples Communication Workshops at www.beingheardnow.com and about Kathe’s couples programs at www.coupleswhotalk.com
copyright, 2015 Being Heard LLC