What began as a gentle tease over his taste in television has devolved into a full-blow bickering war with your husband over how you spend your TV time. It's the same spat you had two nights before, and last week. And while you know it's normal to disagree, all the back-and-forth has you wondering exactly how much bickering is too much?
"Bickering can become problematic if it leaves either person feeling unheard, bullied, or resentful," explains Lesli Doares, licensed marriage therapist and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. "The more bickering there is, the less likely positive feelings about each other and the relationship will thrive."
It's also an issue, says Ruth Nemzoff, Ed.D., author of Don't Roll Your Eyes, "when the argument is the same for the umpteenth time. In that case, it's time to figure out what you are really arguing about and why it is important."
For example, Nemzoff says, a bickering match about what time you arrived to your in-laws last week "might be pure trivia, or it might be important because the half-hour delay meant you missed something you cared about." In this instance, address what you missed out on and how you can avoid being late again, rather than engaging in fruitless back-and-forth about the exact timing, Nemzoff advises.
However, Doares cautions: "I would argue that any bickering is too much. All couples will disagree, but bickering is not a productive way of dealing with those disagreements."
Doares recommends you view your relationship in terms of a 90:10 ratio. "If 90 percent of the time you get along and things are good, there is enough positive energy to absorb the 10 percent that is not so great," she says. "And anything below a 75:25 split is problematic. Why? [Research has shown] it takes three positive interactions to balance one negative interaction."
If you fear your bickering has exceeded a healthy level, it's time to take inventory of why you're disagreeing as often as you do. "It's rarely about what you think it is," Doares says, "and you need to be willing to go deeper to find the source. You each need to decide whether you want to be 'right,' or if you want the relationship to work."
Consider that in any given bickering match, neither party may actually be "right" because you're likely dealing in preferences or opinions, not facts. "You have to decide if you really want to use your relationship capital on any particular issue as opposed to finding a solution that works for you both," Doares says.