How much fighting is normal in a marriage?

Hi Meredith,

I've been married for a little over five years and I'm starting to question whether the problems my husband and I have are "normal" relationship struggles or something more. I had a very dysfunctional family growing up so I don't have a true basis of comparison. My husband and I are very different, something we both knew going into the marriage. He's clean and I'm messy. He relaxes by going to the gym whereas I relax by vegging out on the sofa, etc. We talked about it a lot before we got married, and we both saw it as a way to expose each other to new things, etc. And it's not these differences, per se, that are the problem, but how we deal with these differences. I'm more of a "let people be" type of person but he's definitely more opinionated and struggles with that.

So, to get to the real crux of the matter here (it's taking a lot out of me to get this written down on paper), we fight. A lot, I think. For the data-driven folks, we average roughly 1-2 fights per month. While these fights have never been physical, they almost always involve some other extremely hurtful behavior, from name calling to storming out of the house to threatening to leave me. He recognizes that he has some anger management issues and has been working on toning his reactions down, but at the end of the day, he still gets mad a lot.

I have a fairly stressful job and I don't see that changing in the future, and seriously, the last thing I want to have to worry about every weekend is whether he's going to call me a name because he thinks I'm watching too much TV, or whether he'll storm out of the house because I didn't go to the gym that day. And here's the flip side to the coin -- he's not necessarily wrong to get mad at me for some of these things. I'm not saying that I think I deserve this, I'm just saying that I could see a lot of people getting annoyed with some of my behavior. I mean, I'm sure a lot of couples fight over one or the other of them being too lazy or too messy, right?

Which leads me back to my question at the beginning -- how can I determine whether this is normal? I feel like I'm getting to the end of my rope, but perhaps I'm just being foolish in thinking that any other marriage is better? Having had a very dysfunctional family growing up, I'd always envisioned that I'd do whatever I could to make my marriage better, but somehow I feel like I've ended up in the same place I was in when I was 10 and had to creep around the house in fear of angering my father. Only this time I'm doing it by choice.

Anyway, I'm sure most people are going to recommend therapy and marriage counseling (I went for a few sessions last year and he has been less than keen on going to counseling). I guess I'm just looking for some perspective -- is a couple big blow-up fights each month normal? Is it normal for men in the heat of their anger to call their wives names? Is it normal to storm out of the house to cool off? We do love each other and have a great relationship when we're not fighting, so I certainly don't want to feel like I'm giving up too soon.

– Enough is Enough?, Cambridge

Forget about defining "normal" and think about what makes you happy. If you're lonely in the marriage and uncomfortable being at home with your husband, you have to make a change.

Yes, we're all going to recommend therapy and marriage counseling -- because you need professional help. You have to figure out what you're trying to save, why he yells, and why you can't be a good roommate.

Tell your husband that you want to go to counseling together -- not to punish him, but because you want to figure out how to make each other happy. He might be "less than keen" on it, but you've both hit a wall. He knows that.

As you make appointments, write up a list of activities that you like to do with your husband (sports, movies, specific topics of conversation) and try to plan some outings. It's important that you guys leave the house and put your marriage in a new context. If most of your relationship happens when you're alone at home, you won't have much perspective and it'll be tough to find your way out of this rut.

Readers? Do they have to go to therapy? Can this be fixed? Should she take any of the blame here? What about the name calling?

– Meredith