Who says all we argue about is work, money and sex?

The marriage counselling group Relate, as it happens, which is why it is conducting a major study into why couples are arguing more. By Katy Guest
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The Independent Online

Britain is a nation of quarrellers - no argument. The marriage counselling group Relate is to launch the most extensive survey yet into the modern row, as experts claim British couples now argue more frequently than ever before.

Britain is a nation of quarrellers - no argument. The marriage counselling group Relate is to launch the most extensive survey yet into the modern row, as experts claim British couples now argue more frequently than ever before.

Relate will survey thousands of couples who come to them for help, but initial soundings show that long working hours, stiff mortgages and other financial worries are the main causes of conflict. Confused gender roles and unrealistic expectations about sex have also been blamed.

Paula Hall, a sex and relationship therapist with Relate, said: "Yes, we're arguing more. Work and time issues are incredibly common now. There's a huge difference compared with 10 years ago. I see very few clients now who don't name that as a problem. It's a contributing factor for about 90 per cent and there has definitely been an increase."

Oliver James, the clinical psychologist and author of Britain on the Couch, says rows between couples have grown because the once separate roles of men and women have become increasingly blurred.

"We are suffering from gender rancour," he says. "Traditional roles have been eroded, and people have become more confused about what it means to be a man or a woman, and what role each other should be performing. In the matter of sex, people are particularly rancorous towards each other because they have ludicrous expectations of what it can deliver."

Dr Elizabeth Mapstone, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and author of War of Words, said: "Argument is a really important area in a relationship.If you aren't allowed to express your views, one person effectively ends up held as a psychological prisoner. Argument can actually make a relationship richer because you learn to appreciate each other as individual human beings."

Relate's early findings coincide with the results of a Lloyds TSB survey into people's attitudes on the work/life balance. It interviewed 1,700 people and found that workers would much rather have more time to spend with their families than receive a pay rise: 66 per cent of people wanted to improve their home lives, while 20 per cent would prefer to have more money.

But there is cause for hope, said Ms Hall. "It's about discussion and negotiation. Conflict can be positive, and avoiding conflict is definitely not good for relationships," she says. "It's much more accepted now that relationships need work," she says.

"It's really hard trying to fit in a good relationship, a good sex life, a good family life and a successful career. What I'd tell people is to make time, but that means looking at your priorities."

And lots of positive arguing, it seems.

'I'm blunt about what needs doing'

Melissa Beadle, 29, has been married to Andrew, an air-conditioning engineer, for 30 months. They argue about everything, from bathing their daughter to the time Andrew spends on his PlayStation 2. "I'm usually the one who starts the arguments," said Mrs Beadle, from Caterham Valley, Surrey. "Now I'm at home with the baby, I'm a lot more blunt about what needs doing. If that results in an argument, then I'm not bothered."

'Not arguing means not communicating'

Dan and Lucy Jolin, from Cricklewood in London, find arguments have been a routine feature of their seven-year marriage. "We argue a couple of times a week - just bickering really, about the usual things, like money and household chores," says 30-year-old Lucy, a PR consultant. Both agree that arguments can be a healthy part of a relationship. "If people aren't arguing, they're not communicating," says Dan.

HOW ARGUMENTATIVE ARE YOU? TRY THE IoS QUIZ

Your last major row with your partner was about:

a) Her desire to move to the country

b) Whether stem cell research abuses human life

c) Whoever left the loo roll with one sheet of paper without getting a fresh one

Your partner has spent three hours cleaning the house, washing up and making you a lovely cup of tea. Do you say:

a) "The kitchen looks very clean. What are you after?"

b) "I am fully aware of your efforts to pull your weight over chores. Thank you for respecting the equality of this partnership."

c) "What a tip. I see you couldn't be arsed even to wash out that milk bottle."

You need £200to pay the plumber. Your partner claims to have limitedcash, suggesting you try a cash machine. You say:

a) "No, give us £100 and I'll get the rest to him later."

b) "OK. I don't mind walking three miles to the bank. The exercise will do me good."

c) "You seem to have plenty for booze, fags and buying dinner for that fat cow Lorraine Higgins."

Mostly As: You're coming along, but still too human. Try to be more of a bitch.

Mostly Bs: You understand logic, but you've just no idea how to conduct a proper barney.

Mostly Cs: Congratulations. You're tactless, vindictive and unfair. You could pick a fight with a fence-post. Argument-wise, you're up there with David Starkey.

John Walsh

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