Why Couples Quarrel

Couples tend to have the same quarrels over and over again.  Some quarrel over money; others over keeping up appearances to impress the neighbors; and still others over household tidiness.  These quarrels rarely resolve.  It is not uncommon for couples to have the same quarrels for years, decades, or even a lifetime.

My analysis on why couples quarrel is based on three concepts: self-hugging, everyday tyranny, and human needs analysis.  Virtually all repeated quarrels arise because of a difference in core values.

The research I conducted in the field of motivation led to the development of the Reiss Motivation Profile®, a comprehensive, standardized measure of the 16 human needs that make us individuals.  Everybody embraces these needs, but not to the same extent.  One partner, for example, may have a strong need for Social Contact, which is the desire for peer companionship, whereas the other partner may have a weak need to socialize.  While the partner with the strong need is motivated to socialize often, the partner with the weak need is motivated to minimize social activities.  The partners are incompatible with respect to social life although they may be compatible with respect to other needs.

Partners who are incompatible for the basic desire for Social Contact tend to quarrel repeatedly over how much time they spend with friends.  They may never reach a compromise because, according to the principle of self-hugging, they misunderstand each other's needs.

Self-hugging is the natural tendency to think our values are best, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.  The gregarious partner, who usually experiences socializing as fun and solitude as unpleasant, concludes that a social lifestyle leads to more happiness than does the lifestyle of a loner.  Thus, gregarious partners wonder what is wrong with private partners who do not enjoy socializing.  The gregarious partner may wonder if the private partner lacks social skills.

The private partner experiences solitude as pleasant and socializing as unpleasant.  Private partners wonder what is wrong with gregarious partners for not being able to enjoy solitude, or at least quiet evenings at home.  The private partner may think the gregarious partner is superficial.

Since people believe their own experiences above all else, gregarious people are convinced that socializing leads to intrinsic joy, whereas private people are equally convinced that solitude leads to intrinsic joy.  Each assumes what is true for them is a universal truth that applies to everyone.

Everyday tyranny is trying to change a loved one to embrace your values, not for your benefit, but rather because you believe your loved one would be happier with the lifestyle you value.  Gregarious people quarrel repeatedly with private partners because they believe their private partner would be happier being more social.  Private people quarrel repeatedly with gregarious partners because they believe their gregarious partner would be happier spending more quiet time at home.

Couples quarrel repeatedly because they underestimate the extent of human individuality.  People think their partners can learn to enjoy what they enjoy, but their partners have different needs and will rarely find joy in what they value.  Everyday tyranny – the attempt to change your partner's values – doesn't work.

Nearly all repeated quarrels arise because two partners have opposite values for one or more of the 16 human needs.  Couples with opposite needs for Saving will quarrel over money; those who have opposite values for Power will quarrel over work hours; and those with opposite prioritization for Tranquility will quarrel over risk taking.

To learn more about assessing relationship compatibility, see Chapter 8 in The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People by Steven Reiss, Ph.D.



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