What Do Women In Lesbian Relationships Fight About?

We asked LGBTQ women in same-sex relationships to take our Lesbian Fight Club survey about the role fighting plays in your relationships, and over 3,500 of you answered the call! We’ve already released two hilarious listlings of some of your stupidest fights (The Gayest, Silly Household Things), and we’re ready to get into the rest of the data. The results were, honestly, fascinating. First, an infographic:

the_way_we_fight_final

Infographic by Alex Vega

In the above infographic, the percentages indicated in the list of things you’re most likely to fight about come from your answer to “How often do you fight about the following topics?”. The answer options were Constantly, Often, Sometimes, Rarely, Never, and the percentages above represent those who chose Constantly, Often or Sometimes for that topic.

In the ensuing discussion, when I say “frequently” I am referring to the combined numbers of “constantly” and “often” only.


This Is What You Fight About

1. Relationship Expectations

What does this consist of, exactly? Well, a whole lot of things: how much time you spend together (an especially volatile topic for those in long-distance relationships or those with exhausting time-consuming jobs), the level of emotional support required by each partner, whether long-term goals and life plans line up, and who is putting more [time, energy, trust, care-taking] into the relationship. Sometimes you want such different things in the long-term that you’re not even sure if it’ll ever work. 71% of those who fought “constantly” about relationship expectations worried that their relationship might not last — a significantly larger percentage than those who fought constantly about other topics.

2. Pet Peeves or Annoying Habits

Although many picked this category, very few elaborated on it: but, interestingly enough, the overwhelming majority of people who picked this as something they fought about Often or Constantly used the comment boxes to explain that they don’t really “fight” so much as “bicker,” “disagree,” or have “briefly heated conversations.” This category for many people might just be serving as a stand-in for the various five-minute squabbles we have about the little things the other person does that annoy us: leaving drawers partially open on a dresser, exhibiting road rage, leaving the light on in the kitchen, talking too loudly, showing up late for things, losing their keys, checking e-mail too often, and so forth.

3. Sex

Sex is a huge issue in relationships and the most common conflict related to sex is frequency: mis-matched sex drives came up with almost every commenter who indicated fighting about sex constantly/often. Sub-complications of this genre included one partner’s sex drive being impacted by anti-depressants or stress/exhaustion, dealing with past sexual trauma, and feelings about who initiates more. As we learned in our Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey, couples having more sex were more likely to report being “ecstatic” — the highest option offered on the relationship satisfaction matrix — in their relationship, but there wasn’t a huge correlation between couples who were “happy” (the second-highest option) and couples who had more sex. We’ve done a lot of work on this topic: on Moving Beyond Lesbian Bed Death and Bridging The Libido GapSurviving Lesbian Bed Death, what to do when  Your Girlfriend Never Ever Ever Wants To Have Sex. We’ve talked about (Having More) Sex, when You Can’t Always Get What You Want(In Bed) and when a particular sex act gives you PTSD — and also, Here Is A Worksheet To Help You Talk To Partners About Sex.

Unsurprisingly, those who fought about sex constantly or often were the least likely to report always having makeup sex – only 4.3% do, compared to 38% of the whole.

4. Housework

Seriously if somehow none of us ever had to do the dishes, we’d all get along way better — and the household things we find to fight about are really truly special. Although housework doesn’t crack the top ten most contentious topics for relationships who’ve been together for a year or less, it debuts at #6 for relationships who’ve been together 1-2 years, and continues climbing the charts — by the 5+ year mark, it hits #3 and settles at #2 for 10+ year relationships. So, basically, as soon as you start living together, you start fighting about how to live together! Most of these arguments are of the “who does more” variety and are further complicated by couples with messy pets.

5. Friends or Socializing

So here’s how this goes: you don’t hang out with each other’s friends, or you don’t like each other’s friends, or you wish their friends didn’t include their exes. Maybe they’re an introvert and you’re an extrovert. Or there’s jealousy there — she doesn’t trust you to go out without her, or seems to have more fun with her friends than with you. Of those who fought frequently about friends/socializing, 48% also fought frequently about jealousy/other people and 28% about exes, compared to 13.8% and 8.6% of the entire group.

6. Other People/Jealousy

Not trusting your partner and worrying about them cheating on you or being suspicious of her friendships can really put a lot of stress on a relationship, which’s perhaps why 42% of people who frequently fought about this think the way they fight is unhealthy, compared to 17% of the entire group. This was a source of contention much more prevalent in newer relationships than older ones, though, and it seems to be a somewhat larger issue for bisexual women: 41-42% of lesbians dating bisexuals fought about this, compared to 39% of bisexuals dating bisexuals, 31%-35% of queers dating lesbians, 33.5% of lesbians dating lesbians and 29% of queers dating queers. Non-monogamous/open relationships struggled with this more than monogamous ones — 42% of folks in non-monogamous or open relationships fought about this, compared to 34% of the whole group.


What you fight about changes over time

It’s difficult to draw conclusions from this without a longitudinal study — do couples fight less about jealousy over time, or are couples who get jealous less likely to stay together past a couple of years?


7. Money

45% of married folks fight about money, compared to 30% of the unmarried — combining finances isn’t easy! Money fights seem to fall into three main categories: one person makes more money than the other (or one is unemployed), there are disagreements about spending habits and saving, or tight finances overall cause general stress and tension. This issue is really stressful for lesbian relationships especially because women’s earning power is so much less than men’s — moreso for LGBTQ women — and we’re more likely to be cut off from family or social safety nets.

8. Work or School

A lot of you fight about work and school schedules — one partner working/studying too much or not enough, prioritizing work over the relationship or residual stress from work/school. And, of course, a lot of you are doing that super complicated thing where we work with each other (I’m guilty of this too — I co-own this website with an ex-girlfriend and run A-Camp with another ex-girlfriend!), which offers so many more opportunities for high-charged disagreements. Whereas only 26% of the entire group said they currently fight more than usual due to a temporary situation, 43% of those who fight frequently about work/school do. School, of course, is temporary, and all of us tend to imagine a time in our lives when we’ll be working less.

9. Relatives

This is another category highly impacted by length of relationship — it barely comes up for newbies and climbs the charts the longer a couple is together. In fact, by the time we reach the 10-year mark, you’re fighting more often about relatives than about sex! Heterosexual couples certainly deal with a lot of family-related conflicts, but queer couples are more prone to them: a lot of y’all are dealing with family who are homophobic, unsupportive or otherwise insufferable to be around due to their feelings about your sexual orientation. There were a lot of unrelated-to-being-gay family conflicts, too: disagreements on how to handle toxic family members, cultural conflicts, “her mom/dad hates me,” living with relatives and different attitudes towards family in general.

10. Health

LGBTQ women are more likely than straight people to have mental and physical health issues — something I recently dug into in depth using results from our Grown-Ups survey. On this survey, mental health issues came up a lot amongst people who fought frequently about health, as well as disagreements over how one partner is handling their physical or mental health — how often they exercise, what they eat, how often they drink or use drugs or smoke or how they manage a physical or mental health problem. Speaking from personal experience on all sides, relationships in which one or both partners have depression, anxiety, BPD, PTSD or any number of psychiatric diagnoses require a lot of understanding, patience and communication, and mental health is something we talk about a lot around here.

11. Exes

Exes, along with the next two items on this list, are a topic that only makes the top nine for couples who’ve been together for less than a year — and of those who fight frequently about exes, 96% also fight frequently about other people/jealousy. “Exes” is probably seen more as a sub-topic of “other people/jealousy” than its own thing and perhaps should’ve been treated as such on the survey.

The most cited conflict for this category was discomfort with somebody still being friends with their ex, but difficulties with ex-husbands came up, too. Another interesting tidbit: only 17% of queer/queer couples fight about exes, but between 21% and 26% of lesbian/lesbian, lesbian/bisexual and bisexual/bisexual couples do.

Also, one of you wrote: “She’s convinced I’m secretly sleeping with a man. I’m not. But she is.” YOU GUYS!! Y’all need to break up. Speaking of breaking up, those who fight frequently about exes were the most likely to agree with the statement “the amount of fighting we do makes me worry that our relationship won’t last.” This might be why longer-term couples fight less often about exes — although it’s also due to the fact that exes are farther in the past the longer you’re together, it’s also possible that couples who fought a lot about exes didn’t last as long as those who didn’t.

12. Drinking, Smoking or Drugs

This is our second topic that made the top ten most-fought-about topics for brand new couples but not for any couples together for one year or more — however, it’s not that more lengthy relationships fought about it way less often than newer ones, simply that topics that weren’t issues for new relationships overtook it (e.g., housework, relatives, health.) However, radically different substance habits be an insurmountable issue for many couples, especially for queer women who may socialize in all-female groups containing mostly mutual friends — as opposed to a boyfriend/husband who might go out “with the guys” to get hammered.

What’s happening with the couples who fight about this a lot? Well, they smoke and you hate it. They like to party and you don’t. You think she drinks too much or she thinks you drink too much or you think she smokes too much pot. Addiction issues, relapses or even scarier stuff — like she steals your prescription drugs or has ended up hospitalized for drinking.

Those who fight about drinking/smoking/drugs frequently were also the most likely to report fights that always, often or sometimes involved physical abuse — 6%-12.9% of them did, compared to 1.6-2.6% of the entire group. This topic was the third most likely, after “exes” and “other people/jealousy,” to report fights that always, often or sometimes involved emotional abuse.

13. Politics and Social Justice Issues

Sometimes these arguments deeply reflected that “the personal is political” —  a white partner not understanding a non-white partner‘s experiences of racism or differences in background (red state vs. blue state) leading to present-tense conflicts. Those who fought frequently about politics/social issues were the least likely to worry that their relationship won’t last because of fighting, despite also being the second-most-likely to fight every day. They were also the most likely to agree that fighting can be productive (56%) and the least likely to agree that the way they fight is unhealthy (27%). This ranked higher for new couples, perhaps because politics/social justice issues are often deeply tied to personality moreso than relationship dynamics, and it makes sense that they’re controversial mostly during the first year, when you’re still evaluating the compatibility of your partnership.

14. Children

The reason “children” fall so low on this list is probably because most of the survey-takers don’t have any — although quite a few people did report fighting about whether or not to have kids or tension around trying to get pregnant. Of those who had kids, many seem to have come into the relationship with kids from prior relationships. “Children” comes in at 14 out of 14 issues for all relationship lengths until we hit the 5+ year mark, at which point it crawls to #13, and then leaps to #9 at the 10+ year mark. The main thing worth mentioning about couples with children is that y’all are tired. Y’ALL ARE SO TIRED. You have fights about parenting styles but also a lot of you are just so incredibly tired and so you bicker every now and then but it’s usually fine. This is likely why those who fought frequently about children were the most likely to fight every day.



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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now — she is currently plotting her return to the West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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34 Comments

  1. I don’t know if it is ok to post links here but since it is very relevant to this conversation I hope it is ok.

    There seems to be a lot of evidence there is a very high level of break up drama in lesbian relationships as sociological studies and civil union dissolution rate stats show. In the US we have same sex marriage now but may be looking at really high lesbian (or bis in same sex marriages) divorce rates. I hope anyone interested in keeping together a lifelong relationship rather then a lifestyle of serial monogamy will take a look at this. I think more self awareness in the community may help this problem. Our lack of role models and support in the past has really affected the quality of our relationships IMO. Plus women appear to be pickier about their relationships then men in some ways. Marriage isn’t for everyone but if you are in one or want one this may be helpful to understand.

    “Lesbian Relationships are the Most Unstable- Why?”
    http://www.sapphictastic.com/?page_id=2

      • I get your point but I think can all agree there is a lot of emotional upheaval in breakups. I was referring to there being drama during break ups, not the relationship necessarily. Although general people do break up because of “drama.”

        • i feel like these numbers could shift as marriage becomes possible for more couples — not like it’s good to have an institution that locks people together who are unhappy, but there is some value in a situation that really encourages you to tough it out and work through things, and that situation hasn’t been open to lesbian couples for a while?

          to your other point about lesbian couples fighting more, (and i feel like some ppl will yell at me about gender essentialism but i’m just speaking my truth! and the truth of dozens of other women who have dated both men and women that i’ve talked to about this), when i started dating women instead of men, the biggest adjustment was how i could be totally emotionally honest about things and not be instantly written off as a crazy-ass bitch. i felt like with men they assumed i was insane (which i am, but not because i’m female, which was their assumption, that all women are “crazy”) and i had to spend the entire relationship proving otherwise. most of my problems i had with them would’ve been written off by then as “boys will be boys,” deal with it. i was constantly checking myself, containing my feelings, controlling my responses to things, and instead venting with female friends. when i was upset i internalized it because if i vocalized it, they’d just be like, byeeee. maybe that means i have more fights with girlfriends than i did with my boyfriends, but the fights i have now at least feel productive and honest, the fights i had with boyfriends just felt like exercises in futility. i’m sure that most long-term opposite sex couples have worked out effective ways of being honest and communicating and fighting productively, but in 1-2 year relationships had in one’s early twenties, well, that was not my experience. there was less fighting but also WAY less happiness, honesty and equality.

          • That was really an interesting take on the differences between dating men and women. As a person that has dated men I would agree there are differences. I think everything you said is true.

            It does seem as though this focus women have on their emotions may make them have higher relationship expectations versus men which can possibly lead to the reality that women (hetero ones even) are a lot more likely then men to initiate a divorce. I just think it is a good thing if lesbians/bisexuals have more awareness about this going into / working through relationships. I’m not into serial monogamy at all personally and have been in a very long happy same sex relationship that had a couple of very serious challenges. So I am biased. I’m glad we worked it out. But I don’t think marriage is even for everyone. Some people are happier in poly or single situations. But so far data shows married versus single people have better financial and mental health outcomes. And people that divorce are even more likely to continue a life of more divorces in the future.

          • Yes! This is such an adjustment. Having a partner who notices when something is off, and either has a pretty good guess what it is or at least asks me to speak my truth, is a really new thing for me. It’s been really confusing, honestly, having partners who genuinely want to know what’s wrong, when ten years of tepid dude relationships taught me to be the Cool Girl & swallow discontent at all costs.

          • Hello! Queer woman going through a same-sex divorce here! Just thought I’d weigh in. I’d love to see your stats Sata that say, a: marriage improves financial and mental health and b: that people who get divorced go on to get divorced a bunch more times.

            The stats that I’ve seen seem to suggest that marriage is more beneficial to men than it is for women and that post divorce women are usually mentally and emotionally better off than married women – though those stats are for hetero marriages, so I really can’t say how they relate to us sapphic gals.

            I would say that queer women in same sex marriages might get divorced or separated more than our hetero counterparts just because we feel like we’re allowed to. Like the world already hates our relationships and many governments (like mine) don’t recognise our marriages so splitting doesn’t necessarily case an evil ugly DIVORCE shadow over our faces. I would wager that if the same were true for hetero women, a lot more of them would be leaving their husbands. With the rates of domestic violence what they are – what they always have been – I don’t think we should look at divorce rates with sadness necessarily. Sometimes we need to recognise that people were dying in those relationships (from violence and not) and they got out before it was too late. Maybe queer women – instead of being too fickle or dramatic – are better equipped to detangle themselves before they hurt each other and themselves.

            I don’t know. I wish I could say: this is why we get divorced and this is what it means. But I can’t do that because I don’t know, even while I go through it myself! We make choices and we generally do what we think is best for ourselves and for the people that we love and that’s all we really can do right?

          • [quote] i was constantly checking myself, containing my feelings, controlling my responses to things…in one’s early twenties…[/quote]

            I’m not sure if my quotes will work.

            I only dated women and felt a lot of pressure to express no negative emotion. But now that I’m old, I wonder if that’s just because I had really big feelings when I was in my early 20s?

            I know there are big differences between dating men and women, though. I’m very confused about ideas about being a “good girlfriend” and such.

          • To GEM- It is well documented that 2nd marriages or more likely to end in divorce then first marriages. I just don’t have time to find them now but there are in fact several studies that show married people live longer, have better mental health, and financial stability (even when they control for how those personality types were pre marriage). I will eventually have everything well documented on my website. It just takes time.

            All your other points were very interesting and I agree. Again I don’t have time to cite and find it but I did see a study that states women are often happier getting out of a marriage they don’t want to be in. So your may be correct. It’s hard when studying human nature, it is so complicated and different studies can say different things. I just want to try to provide women in same sex relationships with as much information as possible. I plan on writing an entry at some point addressing the mental health issues around marriage and divorce and the pros and cons of staying in a relationship.

            Anecdotally, my serial monogamist friends just wind up with some of the same problems plus a new set of problems to be worked out as they jump from relationship to relationship. I acknowledge I am biased towards life long commitments though.

          • Sata, I don’t get your differentiation between “serial monogamists” and married people. Aren’t all (monogamous) people serial monogamists until they find the right person to spend their lives with?

  2. My girl and I both didn’t take this survey because we didn’t think we qualified, but with a whole category for pet peeves and bickering, we might have. (We don’t FIGHT fight, but mostly just throw around some passive aggressive snark.)

    • well i certainly don’t think we’d submit our data to an academic journal or anything! but i think the definition of “fight” varies by couple and would be tough to define in a way that accurately addresses the emotional impact of different disagreements to different people.

      we’ve actually been talking about that a lot amongst ourselves since it went out, how we all have different definitions of what a “fight” is, even within relationships. but everybody TALKS about fighting and having fights with our partners a lot, so obviously this is a term we’re all comfortable using in conversation without providing our own definition every time. if you search “what do couples fight about” you’ll get millions of results that also don’t define “fight,” much of which is based on extensive research. we’re not the first ones to ask these questions, just the first ones to do so to queer women (as far as we know).

      i do keep saying that if we had to do it again, we’d define “fight”… but i also don’t really know how we could. people have wildly different personalities. some people never yell. some people are heartbroken by bickering. some people are so comfortable with day-to-day quarrels because of how they grew up that only fights where cell-phones are thrown feel like “real” fights. it’s so subjective. and that’s what we ended up measuring, is the frequency and topics related in everybody’s very own definition of fighting.

      • How about a spoof flowchart to go with the famous “Is It Sex?” flowchart? “Is It Fight?” [Do you disagree about something?] > [No.] > [Go make a sandwich!] > [I can’t because you finished all the mustard, you jerk!]

        As a scientist, I definitely cringe at some of the methods and analysis used in AS surveys, but overall I really enjoy them and I think they are way better than most mass-media pseudoscience. In this case, I think having “fight” default to “fight, as self-defined by each survey taker,” was appropriate, although a question about what “fight” means to you might have been fun.

  3. I don’t fight, but people have tried to start fights with me over my unwillingness to fight. I will never understand that. If I’m too layed back for you and having preventative discussions about differences is a negative, I don’t want to be with you anyway.

    • Much higher than whose relationships? Although domestic violence still occurs in same-gender relationships involving women, the numbers are certainly not higher than different-gender relationships. Domestic violence has also been written about on other parts of this website, if you care to look.

  4. Ok my daughter in her 30s went thru a very bad divorce with a man,have 2 kids, then she meets a late 20s women whom is a lesbian, and although said daughter had never given it a lot of thought ,bcause she has lesbian friends just wasnt something she had thought about. The new lesbian hfriends and her became friends ,and so slowly they began a relationship. This girl has no kids,but seems to think my daughterdoesnt discipline them right. She has never luved on her own. Very immature, but is a sweet girl.Almost 2 years into this and she had become so possessive and doesnt want to do any of the shared duties. My daughter owns her own home. And its to the point without writing so much that my daughter wants her out but this lady threatens to kill herself,says she can’t live without her,but the next day right back to her imature ways. Her parents have nothing to do wi th my daughter and refuse to. I have accepted this as i would never turn my back on my child. I dont believe she is gay, i believed she was hurt so vad that this gorl saw her weakness and the rwst is history. But she wants her gone ,she has nothing n her name regarding the home. Tje kids like her but she isnt affectionate at all, and looks at it more as babysitting then oarenting. In other words Its her way and she does as she pleases but get angry when said daughter has to also parent with the kids dad. How do we get her to leave without causeing an meltdown.Other then pack up what little she has there and if course respectively, nothing would be harmed or damaged. But to get her to leave daughter alone, and no hassle her with txt ,phone,and her big thing is buying her stuff and beggging and saying she will change. Im worried about my daughter

    • [email protected] technology

      Ok my daughter in her 30s went thru a very bad divorce with a man,have 2 kids, then she meets a late 20s women whom is a lesbian, and although said daughter had never given it a lot of thought ,bcause she has lesbian friends just wasnt something she had thought about. The new lesbian hfriends and her became friends ,and so slowly they began a relationship. This girl has no kids,but seems to think my daughterdoesnt discipline them right. She has never luved on her own. Very immature, but is a sweet girl.Almost 2 years into this and she had become so possessive and doesnt want to do any of the shared duties. My daughter owns her own home. And its to the point without writing so much that my daughter wants her out but this lady threatens to kill herself,says she can’t live without her,but the next day right back to her imature ways. Her parents have nothing to do wi th my daughter and refuse to. I have accepted this as i would never turn my back on my child. I dont believe she is gay, i believed she was hurt so vad that this gorl saw her weakness and the rwst is history. But she wants her gone ,she has nothing n her name regarding the home. Tje kids like her but she isnt affectionate at all, and looks at it more as babysitting then oarenting. In other words Its her way and she does as she pleases but get angry when said daughter has to also parent with the kids dad. How do we get her to leave without causeing an meltdown.Other then pack up what little she has there and if course respectively, nothing would be harmed or damaged. But to get her to leave daughter alone, and no hassle her with txt ,phone,and her big thing is buying her stuff and beggging and saying she will change. Im worried about my daughter

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