In the Beginning...
Yelling is rarely the first scene. In fact, most relationships usually start with loving words and optimistic promises (they don't call it the "honeymoon period" for nothing), but it's not uncommon for situations and relationships to ebb, flow and spiral. Some studies indicate that as little as 3% of married couples say they never argue so there is a lot of arguing going in America's household. Yelling, however is a step above the average argument. It is a behavior that can surface in the heat of the moment, escalate rapidly and has the potential to inflict traumatic consequences on everyone involved. Knowing all of that, why do we still decide to yell at our partners?
How Often Do Couples Yell?
Studies show that yelling is very, very common - that doesn't necessarily make it right or OK, but the statistics show that it happens a lot. This chart from YouGov indicates that approximately 30% of U.S. couples have heated arguments at least once a week, and nearly 60% at least once a month.
What's all the Fussing About?
Even more intriguing than how often, is why we yell. If this were an episode of Family Feud, the top answers should be fairly intuitive - money, attitude, chores, and in-laws are typically the four most common reasons. But the other top reasons might surprise you.
The interesting points to note from this YouGov chart is how the different argument topics vary by age group. Older American couples argue about tone of voice, communication styles and health more than younger Americans. Politics is the same across all demographics - none of us can agree on that subject (my advice - just steer clear of it altogether). Another interesting note is how older couples mellow over time on certain topics - attitude, friends, sex and jealousy all cause fewer fights as we age.
Steps that Partners Should Take to Disagree Properly
There are probably an infinite reasons why partners yell at each other, but there are a few key steps that couples can take to prevent the escalations of simple disagreements to the potential trauma of verbal abuse and yelling.
- Stay calm or suggesting to talk later. This is WAY easier said than done, but it is the foundation to centering emotions and not fueling fiery discussions. When either partner is yelling, the natural, primal instinct to fight or flight will prevent either person from thinking rationally and grounding conversations in honest communication. If neither of you can regain composure, then it is often best to suggest pausing and walk way until things cool down.
- Establish ground rules for arguments. Talk when you are both calm to set ground rules, like no profanity, threats, or insults. Explain you will walk away if boundaries are crossed. Follow through consistently.
- Address feelings with feelings. Many times there are complex subtexts to why either partner is yelling, and it may not even really be about what both of you are actually yelling about. Typically there might be something that has triggered an irritation, and thus the yelling. The key is determining the trigger and then re-focusing the conversation to openly discuss the real, underlying issue(s).
Final Thoughts from Dr. Pam Wright
I always teach my couples to determine who is the “distancer” and who is the “pursuer” in the relationship. The distancer needs time and space, often during or after a conflict, while the pursuer wants to figure out a solution immediately. I think of it as the distancer needs to take time to think or sleep on it, the pursuer can’t think about sleeping until things are settled. These couples have to learn to meet in the middle. I like for them to find a safe keyword or motion (like a football time out hand signal) when things get heated. But they MUST set a time to return and resolve the conflict. It doesn’t ever go away on its own!
Couples need to always come back to the relationship with each other and remember the "golden rule". Ideally you are the other's best friend, trusted partner and closest ally. With that comes a great responsibility to treat the other as you'd like to be treated - with respect - even if you're saying it loudly at the time.