QUESTION: Our 10-year old daughter shocked my husband and me last night by yelling at us to stop bickering. Talk about “out of the mouths of babes”! We are always nitpicking at each other. Why do we do it & how can we stop?

ANSWER: While bickering is a squabble over seemingly trivial matters, over time it can pull a couple apart. The quick shotgun barrage of complaints can tear at the very fabric of the relationship and confuse the couple because there are so many balls in the air, making it difficult to focus on the real issue. Here are three issues that I have seen underneath the verbal pummeling of couples.

1. CONTROL: Every couple must face the issue of control. Who will try to be dominant? Who will submit? The insecurity that fuels this struggle for power must be uncovered. Did you marry your spouse because they acted weak so you could appear strong? Well, surprise! All people have inside strengths that can help you remove your outside mask. Miracle of miracles, you can be yourself with your spouse. They are not so blind and dumb to miss seeing the real you; actually, they love the real you underneath the fake mask. So, take it off, and realize that the goal is intimacy, not victory.

2. IMAGE: The underlying issue in other arguments is image. Many a spouse has loudly bemoaned having a living room in which no one lives or a dining room in which no one dines. While function does not always trump form, nonetheless, a room for show hides the fear that one is so ordinary as to need to flash the extraordinary. Explaining why you love your spouse may close down self-doubt and open up a few rooms.

3. ORDER: Many a Felicia Unger derides a messy Oscar Madison for cups without coasters, soiled clothes piled in the bedroom, and mirrored medicine cabinets left open to reveal within a disorderly horror. Instead of labeling Felicia “a neat nick” or “Mrs. OCD”, listen with empathy to surprisingly discover that she was raised in an angry, chaotic home as a child and now overcompensates with an overly orderly home as an adult.

So, bicker less & listen more. Put yourself in the shoes of the other so as to better understand and love them.

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