No single argument, short of physical or verbal abuse, should end a relationship. And arguing in a relationship is seen by a modern couples therapist as a positive way to resolve a difference in perspective. How a couple argues, how a couple respectfully approaches difference, and how a couple stays away from negative, unhealthy interactions, makes the difference.
So, for a couples therapist, a relationship ending disagreement is not a single event, but rather a series of failures over time about a single unresolvable topic. Most chroniclers of relationship point to sex and money as primary problems. As a sex therapist, a couple’s sexuality is seen as a metaphor for the emotional and psychological health of a relationship.
In every couple, there is a desire discrepancy, with one person in the relationship wanting either more frequent or more adventurous sex. When that gap between distancer and pursuer is wide enough, then this constitutes a kind of ongoing disagreement that can end a relationship.
If a desire discrepancy cannot be resolved, then both partners feel continuously hurt, become anxious in the relationship, and with this relational anxiety avoid both their partner and their own sexuality. If this goes on long enough unchecked, or unmediated by a good couple/sex therapist, then one or the other partner will leave.
A relationship is not about what happens, but what processes a couple has to resolve difference. Processes can be learned and can be taught. If a couple feels that they have a way to resolve whatever happens, big or small, then disagreements are not relationship ending.
Let’s look at sexual initiation as part of the difficulty of desire discrepancy. If one partner initiates 99% of the time, then this pursuing partner will feel unwanted and frustrated, and also continuously set up for rejection, which leads to anxiety and avoidance. If this balance is reduced even marginally, say to 80%, both partners will feel dramatically more engaged in the relationship.
The bottom line is that couples need to feel that they have a process for quickly resolving any kind of conflict in a respectful and timely manner, and that no relational topic, such as a mutual sex life, is off limits.
Stephen Duclos, Licensed Family Therapist, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Supervisor