Jealousy, money, the need for space and excessive use of the Internet are just a few things that can cause relationship strife. Relationships are changing faster than ever before — and so are the triggers for break-ups. New issues not even dreamt about 20 years ago, such as chatroom romances and online pornography, have risen to prominence. Here is what’s going up and what’s going down in the argument charts:
We expect relationships to fail. The “all men are jerks” mind-set and “all women are bunny boilers” mentality has spread from being a joke with our mates into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We wait for our new boyfriend or girlfriend to trip up and then zoom in on their mistakes. Today’s couples think they are being realistic, but often this is just cynicism in disguise. Twenty years ago, couples saw marriage as an end in itself and were prepared to compromise to sustain their relationship. Therefore, they were more trusting and ready to give their partner the benefit of the doubt.
Work / life balance
Today we are working longer hours, doing more shift work, commuting further and therefore spending less time together than twenty years ago. When we’re tired, communication is cut down to the bare essentials (‘what time will you be back?’) as you cross paths in the kitchen. Although this shorthand is very efficient, there is no time to explain the complexity of our feelings. In the past, couples would stay up half the night fighting, and probably solve the argument; today they are too aware of that early meeting to want to waste precious sleep time. Instead we complain that our partner never listens.
Stories of celebrity infidelity and the divorces of supposedly ideal couples (like Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh) reinforce just how many people stray. Twenty years ago, we had a much clearer idea of right and wrong. But what constitutes being unfaithful today? Is it looking too long at a pretty face in the street? What about a long lunch with an admirer that you don’t tell your partner about?
The arguments are not just how much time is spent on the Internet — for work or pleasure — but about starting deep ‘friendships’ in cyberspace and viewing pornography. Research among 1,500 adults found that 46 percent believed emails, texting and chatrooms had led to a big rise in infidelity; 30 percent had used electronic communication to flirt, or to sustain an affair; 22 percent of them had done it every day and 62 percent had done it once a week. In the past, few men had access to porn beyond top-shelf publications and most were too embarrassed to buy them. Today’s Internet porn is more extreme: we are bombarded with adverts for it. What’s more, the technically competent woman can trace every site her man has visited.
Different spending priorities have always been difficult, but the new twist is suddenly discovering your partner has accumulated large credit card debts. Couples today are generally less willing to have joint accounts than twenty years ago and instead use complicated systems to divide bills and shuttle money between them. For example, he pays the mortgage and for the car; while she pays for groceries and utilities. These artificial divisions are prone to misunderstanding and acrimony. Today’s couples think keeping their own bank accounts will stop arguments over one of them being a spendthrift. There will still be arguments over whether they can afford the latest iPod, but the argument is blind because in these ‘together-but-apart’ financial partnerships, neither knows the real state of the others’ affairs.
Traditionally it’s been men who’ve wanted time to themselves, but today women burdened by work and kids are asking for ‘me’ time too. However it is much less divisive than before as this generation of fathers (under 40) are much more involved with their children.
Agreeing on the basic principles of child rearing is easy; the problems are all in the details. Fewer couples have bitter fights over their kids than 20 years ago — unless they have already split — but the stress points have changed from 20 years ago. Today couples worry about issues such as what happens when the child care arrangements break down, how much freedom it is safe to give children and how their internet usage can be supervised. Parents have always argued about what is appropriate at what age, but these days everything starts younger with, for example, pre-teens wanting to dress provocatively.
Division of Labour
Twenty years ago, there were more arguments about gender roles at home and at work. Women still undertake more housework, but most couples seem to have reached an acceptable compromise. We are also benefiting from less of the old ‘men don’t talk’ and ‘women are better with feelings’ stereotyping.
Nobody likes unasked-for advice, especially when it comes from his or her parents. However, if we rely on them for child care or financial help, they probably feel that they have a right to an opinion too. Involvement from outside is less of an issue than 20 years ago, as these days, not only do people see less of their parents , but parents are also more likely to respect our privacy.