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How do you Handle Arguments While Living in a Small Space?

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Living in an RV has many advantages and very few disadvantages. One topic I bought up recently on a Facebook RV group was “how do you handle arguments when you live in a small space?” The comments I received ranged from advice from the very experienced to quite funny. The majority, though, have developed effective communication practices between partners. It kind of goes without saying that you have to at least like each other if you plan on living in an RV.

How to deal with arguments while living in an RV
Can you Deal with Small Spaces?

The Many Faces of Disagreements

Arguments don't have to wind up in battles of the will.
A one-two punch when small spaces feel even smaller.

The types of disagreements are as varied as the couples who have them. Certain types of disagreements and/or arguments never leave you questioning the strength and fortitude of your marriage or partnership.

According to Jane Greer, PhD, “a healthy argument has an end-game in sight. There is a reason why you’re fighting, a problem you’re trying to resolve.” On the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Greer says, “In unhealthy arguments people get defensive and critical.” Arguing until you can’t argue anymore and the fight goes unresolved.

My husband is American Indian. He is quiet by nature and doesn’t get riled up very often. I’m a quiet person as well. We’re a great match. We don’t spin out of control or blow things up out of proportion. Our little Tioga Class C gives us 25 feet of space and that’s all we need.

Love/Hate Relationships Between Couples

So, you’ve settled into your campsite for the night and then it begins. You hear slamming doors, loud voices and perhaps even the crackling sound of things breaking. The police show up and try to calm the situation down.

Of course, this is an extreme and luckily does not happen more often. Holidays seem to escalate the disturbances.

Some couples exist to fight. Their “norm” is duking it out verbally, and doing so often. I’m not a psychologist or a marriage counselor, just a blog writer in an RV park who has experienced a lot. Thankfully, I don’t see this type of relationship with RV couples very often.

I believe you have to have a very specific set of relationship skills to co-exist in a small space. I’m not at all saying that most couples can’t live in an RV, I’m merely saying that to live full time in a box on wheels, there has to be a specific and strong desire for the open road, the spirit for adventure and the ability to “not sweat the small stuff”. The same goes for solo travelers as well.

Practice good communication skills
Just keep talking. Communication is key.

​Effective Communication Skills

Talking or not talking…that is the question. Disagreements are personal. What works best for us, is not always a good solution for someone else. Many of the couples I posed my question to have been together upwards of 20 years. That’s a lot of time to get to know each other, what buttons not to push and what defines them as a couple.

RVers have to have the desire to live and sometimes work together in very close quarters, no matter if you have a 45′ 5th Wheel or an 18′ Camper Van. Life on the road is challenging, exhilarating and even scary from time to time.

You’ll see from the selection of responses below, how these couples work out their differences, how they co-exist during every-day RV life and most of all, you’ll see that they’ve held on to their sense of humor.

Healthy versus Poisonous 

Don’t get me wrong. Not every couple has a picture perfect relationship. Arguments happen. Disagreements sometimes get heated and couples don’t survive the aftermath. Life goes on. ​

Good communication skills and the ability to know when to give each other space. This is what I’ve learned in our 8 years living in an RV. Forgive when you’ve been wronged and apologize when your wrong.

Some couples need time alone. Take a walk alone. Spend time meditating, reading or take a bike ride. Creating a little distance can make a big difference.

A situation can get poisonous when the disagreement escalates out of proportion and out of the bounds of reason. A relationship that has gotten to this point may require some assistance from a third party such as a therapist or marriage counselor. It doesn’t mean it’s the end. It just means the picture has become blurry and things need to be brought back into focus again, such as the example of the fighting couple above.

I love that there are rather high numbers of solo travelers on the roads of America. If my situation was different, I’d be on the road by myself too (with a couple of dogs and at least one cat).

An Eclectic Range of Responses

Here, I outline the types of responses received to my question on how to deal with arguments in a small (RV) space. The answers ranged from psychologically sound to down-right funny. I break down some of these responses into categories, so you can pick and choose which one(s) you relate to. (Names have been withheld to protect the innocent. LOL)

1. In it for the Long Haul – Points to Ponder

These are couples who have been together 25+ years and this is what they have to say about this topic:

“50+ years together…we know what buttons not to push”

“We don’t have arguments. We’ve been together 48+ years”

“After being together 40 years we’ve learned that we won’t really change our minds, so we just change the subject. As for decision-making, we talk about the pros and cons until we both agree”

“We agree to disagree” Arguing is counter-productive. We respect each other’s opinions”

“It’s our 41st anniversary and we don’t argue”

“46 years together. Many arguments. Be respectful and kill the pride”

“After 39 years, arguments just aren’t worth it. Put each other first”

“After 25 years of marriage we don’t stay mad longer than 25 minutes or so. Even if the matter doesn’t get resolved, we just let it go”

2. Wise Words of Wisdom

Here are a few responses that can teach us all a thing or two about getting along:

“Life is too short. Be kind and considerate to each other. You will have no regrets”

“We fight light cats and dogs, but we love each other without a doubt”

“Camping is our ‘Happy Place'”

(I really liked this one) “No volume arguments. Think about how silly it is to watch an argument on TV or in a movie with the sound muted. Argue with each other the same way, on mute. Spilling it all out without a word out loud. Soon it becomes ridiculous watching each other’s facial expressions and you begin to laugh. Nothing has to be apologized for or retracted. Nothing was said out loud”

“If it’s not going to make a difference in a year, let it go”

“Very few things are worth fussing over. The win goes to the one who is most passionate”

“Nurses are instructed to rate pain on a scale of 1 – 10. When things get at odds, stop and ask ‘how big of a deal is this?’ Not much sense getting into a tizzy over a #2. A #10 is pretty important and worth discussing”

​3. Hilarious but Makes Perfect Sense

The following comments on how to deal with arguments when you live in a small (RV) space, were funny, but also make perfect sense.

“How do you deal with arguments in a small space? Duct tape!”

“We let the dog settle it”

“You can’t slam a tent door”

“Two rules. 1. Wife is always right. 2. In the event she’s wrong, see #1. No arguments. Happy wife. Happy life” (Now, there’s a very wise man, indeed!)

“In 48 years of marriage, we both know she’s right, even when we both know she is wrong”

“Go fishing together. That’s always a good idea” (I’m not sure if this husband was being sarcastic or not. LOL)

” We never argue. I’m always right. Isn’t that right, dear?”

“Boxing gloves”

“My husband is always right, especially when he thinks he might be mistaken”

“He likes to ride in the storage compartment”

“When an argument is about to start, you both take your clothes off. You can’t argue naked”

My Conclusion

No matter how long you’ve been together as a couple, disagreements will spring up from time to time. What starts out as a small difference of opinion, can escalate into full on battles with just simple, but stabbing words.

When my husband and I had our home, if I was in the kitchen, he was also in the kitchen. If he was in the living room, I was also in the living room. We liked each other’s company. We have had disagreements from time to time. As you can read from the above responses, we’re not by any means alone. I get quiet and he gets quiet. Before too long, one or the other of us, says something to break the ice.

Now that we live in an RV, we continue to share that same love of being together. Just because our space is much, much smaller, our relationship has remained consistent.

I believe we all bring into our relationships a clear set of skills. These skills include communication, negotiation, persuasion and a sense of humor. By all means, never forget your sense of humor.

23 thoughts on “How do you Handle Arguments While Living in a Small Space?

  1. Hi Sue, My wife and I may have trouble with RV. My wife loves soap opera and she watches all kind of play, 3 to 4 hours a day, but most of time is when she is cooking and doing other home work. I love the idea of doing small business and enjoy dealing all the things related to it. We need time to rearrange us and to make us cooperating more. Again it is nice idea to lead RV life, at least for some year. My wife and I have a plan to visit all National Parks of US. RV may be a good approach.

    1. Hello Anthony, yes, this lifestyle definitely takes some rearranging of our lives. We sold or gave away most everything we owned when our house sold. RV’s come with all the furniture you need to live comfortably. RV’s are the perfect location for doing a small business. Many RV parks and campgrounds have WiFi connections and some even have free cable TV, so your wife would probably like that. It’s a lifestyle that is not for everyone but once you do it for a while you’ll know. If you don’t already have an RV, I would recommend renting one to see how you like it. My husband and I have been living this lifestyle for 8 years and we’ve still not visited all of the National Parks. LOL! The U.S. has so much to offer, doesn’t it!

      Let me know if you would like any further information, Anthony. Who knows, once you and your wife get set up maybe we will meet somewhere on the road.

      All the best,
      Sue

      1. Hi Sue,
        Thank you very much for the information. I now know that RV has all the furniture we need to live comfortably and there are free cable TV and wifi. RV’s are the perfect location for doing a small business. It is so nice to have these information. As mentioned, we plan to visit all national parks in US. Most of the national parks are in the west coast. I think we may have chance to be neighbor. By the way, where are you located now?

        1. Hi Anthony,

          You’re correct. An RV comes with all the furniture built in. The wifi and cable TV may be free, depending on the campground or RV park. It is still the perfect location for an online business. We use different internet hot spots for wifi service, if the park or campground does not supply it. We’re in Southern California right now Anthony. Thank you for your comment.

  2. This is great Sue! I really, really like this. This is great advice!

    My husband and I have been married 5 years and together 10. We argue a lot but over the years we have gotten better and better at it. We rarely feel in despair over it and are faster to make up. We know we love each other more than anything else so we know nothing is more important. We had terrible fights at times but we never wanted to break up. We never separated even for a day. I think that is the key. Some couples separate, get back together, separate, get back together. We never really consider such a scenario so we have to just find a way to make it work. This is not due to believing marriage is permanent though. We felt the same before we were married. I think it is because we found the right partner and knew it was just right, even though it was incredibly difficult at times.

    We live in an apartment now and that is hard at times for me since I am used to having more space. It is especially hard since I don’t have a yard to go out to! The small space is probably similar to an RV but a little less intense! I grew up in a cabin in the woods though so I know all about being stuck with someone in a small space.

    I especially like that comments above about having a silent argument…that is an interesting concept and the one about the husband traveling in the storage compartment! That made me laugh. These are all great comments!

    Thanks for this very interesting post!
    Jessica

    1. Hi Jessica, thank you so much for leaving you comments here. This was kind of a tough post to write. I had received such great feedback to my question on that Facebook group and I believe all were completely transparent with me.

      My husband and I argue, that can’t be helped, but like you said, we’ve never separated or threatened separation. I believe once you actually separate, it makes it easier to fall back on that, instead of staying and working things out.

      Most of the arguments we have are quick and then silent, working out our differences of opinions inwardly and then very soon, we’ve started back with casual conversation…as if nothing ever happened. Small spaces get even smaller when a disagreement happens.

      Thanks again for your comments, Jessica. Happy you enjoyed reading this post.

      All the best to you,
      Sue

  3. Great advice, “Good communication skills and the ability to know when to give each other space.” I guess living in such a small space, there is not a lot of choices, but I think going for a walk to get away and clear your head for a little while, would be a good idea. I always find that walking away for awhile to clear your head is a good choice. Once you come back, you will have a clearer head and able to discuss any issues left unresolved.

    1. You are so right about that Lisa. A small space can get even smaller very quickly. My husband and I will most times just go about doing something else or, like you said, take a walk. Usually within an hour or so one of us starts some small talk.

      Thank you for your comment.

      All the best,
      Sue

  4. Hello there, Sue.
    Great article. I have seen RV parks all over the world, I travel a lot and I have often wondered about them. I honestly can say that I have not problem living in a small space – I have lived in a studio in my you ger days – however, a home on wheels– I dunno!
    It just doesn’t fit in with my plans. I would rent one to travel around in, but I don’t think to make it a home. I lift my hat to courageous people like yourself who have embarked on this journey…and making a success of it.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective, quips, tips, stories, I thoroughly enjoyed them!

    1. Hello Michelle,

      Thank you for your very kind comments. Living and traveling in an RV is a lifestyle and one that is enjoyed by full-timers and part-timers (vacationers) alike. Many, many people, like yourself, want to keep their home base and just use the RV to travel in when they can. Others, change their lives entirely, selling everything in their possession and embrace this lifestyle completely. That was us.

      Thank you, again, Michelle.

      All the best to you,
      Sue

  5. Hello Sue, I so laughed and chuckled through this article. I especially like the one about silent arguing.. that could be a YouTube video! Can you imagine watching it?? So funny. But mostly I appreciated the compassion you showed in writing this. It had to be done with loads of grace. And you did it so well.
    I would love to travel for a bit in an RV. But i wondered how it goes with someone else too. So you really answered this. I am wanting to live even more simpler than I do now.
    I really have in my head a trip through the Rockies and all the Western National Parks so an Rv would be really ideal. Course if its just me I better figure out how to behave with me.. grin.
    Great article, many thanks!ariel

  6. Hello Sue, well it seems that you handled a possibly touchy subject with incredible finesse! i laughted and felt my heart being pulled all through this article. In my mind’s eye I could see a YouTube being made of the silent argument. Can you imagine how funny that would be to watch? I thought this was a great idea.
    I have been entertaining the idea of traveling through the western Rockies of the US and think it would be lovely to do an RV, Not sure if i will be doing it alone. But if i do, I wonder if I can behave with myself???
    It is amazing what you are both doing together. I think it is so exciting that you are doing what you love.
    I can’t wait to read more of your articles.
    In peace and gratitude, ariel

    1. Hi Ariel, I had so much fun writing that post. The members of the group I polled were extremely candid and many were quite funny. I’m not sure I could travel by myself but working in this RV Park I’ve had many single women guests come through here.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Ariel.

      All the best,
      Sue

  7. Hi Sue,

    I really like your honesty in this post. I mean the fact that you made it clear that there are challenges in every marriage, no matter how long the couple have stayed together.

    But as you even said, what really matters is being able to solve the problem. If the argument is healthy which leads to solution of a particular problem, then it is going to be fine. However, if it should get to the point where physical abuse get in then it is heading towards a dangerous place.

    I personally think that as you said, communication should be one of the best solutions to all the challenges that couples do face. If they communicate, then they will better understand each other as you rightly said.

    Thanks so much, I have really learned some valuable information from this post.

    1. Hi Stephen, this was an eye-opening blog post to write. I put the question out to this group of RV people and their responses ranged from quite funny, to quite severe. It proved to me that communication is key, especially when the walls you live within are thin. My wish is that this article will help others to keep emotions light. Thank you for your comments.

      All the best,
      Sue

  8. Hi Sue,
    What a good article on relationships! What is said there holds true in larger spaces, too, and has to amplified by more compression. I love the idea of throwing off our clothes when we begin to disagree~ How great would that work!

    1. Hi Annie,
      I had some really great responses to the question I posed to the RV group. The response you mentioned was a great one! It really is the same as in regular sized space too and it’s all in how we react to it, respond to it or deal with it.

      Thank you so much for your comments.

      All the best,
      Sue

  9. This is really something to think about…. I have long wanted to go RVing, but I never really put much thought into the effects of being in a confined area with my wife, an occasionally-grumpy teenager, and a much-too-active 5 year old.

    I know that when my wife and I disagree, we need a bit of space. Well, she does. I need to duck and run. We’d need to find a more effective way of dealing with these issues.

    I do love some of the advice given at the end of the article though. Humour is often a great way to defuse a situation.

    1. Hi Craig, I loved the responses and feedback I received having just asked a pretty simply question. I was taken aback by the candidness of some people.

      I have encountered many RVing families with kids of all ages. It’s actually quite an education they get from traveling this way.

      I appreciate your comments very much.

      All the best to you,
      Sue

  10. I remember when my wife and I got married 40 years ago. She had a four year old daughter by her previous marriage and our first house was pretty small. Not as small as an RV but very small. And with the three of us it certainly got a lot smaller at times. A winter’s snowstorm that kept us confined for several days in a row would really shrink the space. We had a two car detached garage what I had a small pot belly stove set up in addition to my work bench for woodworking. I also had a dart board in the garage. So when the house shrunk and we all got fed up being confined together I would escape to my garage, light the stove, pop a beer and shoot darts in welcome silence.

    My wife and I still do like our space so I do not think we would be cut out for full time RV residents. An occasional trip might be doable but anything longer then a week or so might be pushing it. I don’t think it would get to the point of the police having to be called though. Seriously, we do get along great and seldom argue anymore (in 40 years I think we’ve covered everything), but we like our space and would be difficult to downsize for us I’m sure.

    Interesting and humorous post I really enjoyed.

    1. Hi Craig, It is definitely not a lifestyle for everyone, but maybe shorter vacation periods would be doable. It is an amazing way to see some of this beautiful country.

      My husband and I knew we were a good fit for full-time RV living because when we had our home, if I was in the kitchen, he was too. If he was in the living room, I was as well. Even when we’re “together” in our small space, we pretty much do our own thing.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. I sure had fun gathering the information. Thank you for your comments.

      Sue

  11. I just read this article again, and still love it. My husband and I are together almost 24-7, we share a lot of life, ideas, direction and goals. And we each go our separate ways, too. We rarely argue- maybe once or twice a year.
    One thing I have learned is to be responsible for my imperfections: the words I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you are miracle words of responsibility to me. Oh, and he thinks happy wife, happy life, so that works, too.

    1. Thank you, Annie. You and your husband sound a lot like us. We rarely argue and if we disagree about anything, it is short-lived. The words “I love you” are spoken often, multiple times a day, as are the others you mentioned. I appreciate your comments very much.

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