How and why do American couples argue?

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
June 01, 2022, 4:02 PM GMT+0

While all relationships have ups and downs, there is significant variation in how couples respond to disagreement. A recent YouGov poll asked Americans in serious relationships how often they argue, what they argue about, and how those arguments transpire. Most often, people in relationships say they argue about tone of voice and attitude. Other major causes and topics of disagreement are money, communication styles, and household chores. More people in serious relationships say their style of arguing is healthy than say it’s unhealthy. At least half say they sometimes raise their voice and a similar proportion give their partner the silent treatment, while fewer say they swear, name-call, or cry during arguments.

How often do couples argue?

There is a great deal of variation in terms of how often people in serious relationships say they get into arguments or disagreements. Roughly an equal share say they argue once a week or more (30%), once a month or multiple times a month (28%), and once or multiple times per year (32%). Only 3% say they never argue. (Throughout this article when we refer to people who are in a “serious relationship,” we mean people who are married, living together, or say their relationship is serious. People who say they’re in a casual relationship are not included).

Some groups say they argue more frequently than others. While additional data is needed to say which of these two factors is primarily at play, we find that people who are younger and have shorter relationship durations report more frequent arguing. Relationship type appears to have little impact on argument frequency – married couples say they argue about as often as unmarried couples. Arguing is also linked to religiosity: People who are more religious – whether defined by saying religion is very important to them, attending religious services frequently, or praying more often – say they argue with their partner more frequently than do people who report lower levels of religiosity.

What do couples argue about?

What topics do American couples argue about most? The most common response from among a list of options is tone of voice or attitude, which 39% of people in serious relationships say they argue about. The next most frequent responses are money, communication styles, household chores, and relationships with family. People who are younger (as well as people in newer couples) differ from older people (and people in longer-term relationships) in the subjects of their arguments. People under 45 were more likely than those over 45 to say they argue about 17 of the 20 topics asked about. However, the largest age gap was on arguments over tone of voice and attitude, which older people were far more likely to report than younger people.

How do couples argue?

Half of Americans in serious relationships (50%) say they have a very or somewhat healthy style of arguing with their partner, while 30% say their style of arguing is very or somewhat unhealthy. What types of potentially unhealthy behavior do couples report during arguments? We asked people how often they and their partner display four types of behaviors during disagreements including raising their voice, giving the silent treatment, swearing or name-calling, and crying. Few say these behaviors come up frequently during their arguments, though a significant share of people say they exhibit each of them at least some of the time:

  • Raising your voice: 26% say they do this always or most of the time, 49% say some of the time, and 19% say never.
  • Giving the silent treatment: 19% say always or most of the time, 41% some of the time, and 31% never.
  • Swearing or name-calling: 12% say always or most of the time, 27% some of the time, and 53% never.
  • Crying: 14% say always or most of the time, 29% some of the time, and 51% never.

We also asked people whether their fights sometimes become physical, with their partner pushing, shoving, slapping, or hitting them. (At the start of the survey, respondents were shown a warning that the survey would include questions about domestic violence and were given the option to opt out of taking it.) While few (5%) say this happens in all or most of their fights, 14% say this happens at least some of the time; 81% say their partner never becomes physical towards them. Some groups are more likely to report violent interactions than others, including adults under 45, people with children under 18, and people with a high-school degree or less.

People who say their fights sometimes become physical are more likely to report that they’ve been to couples therapy: 31% say they have, compared to 16% of all people in serious relationships.

Nearly half of people in serious relationships say they feel like they get into the same arguments over and over again, and about one in five say their arguments sometimes last 24 hours or more. About one-third of people with children under 18 (35%) say they sometimes get into arguments with their partner in front of their children. One in five (20%) say they argue in front of friends and 16% report arguing in public places.

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.

This poll was conducted on April 29 - May 5, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this U.S. News Poll.

Image: Photo by Timur Weber