The Number One Thing Couples Fight About

The Number One Thing Couples Fight About…This topic was addressed in a recent blog post I received from John Gottman. According to Gottman, the number one problem couples fight about is nothing.  I found the article so interesting, so right on, I have decided to edit it a bit and pass it on. Here it is:

When they first met, he was something different.  Mesmerizing. Passionate.  But now there is a huge space between them, and it keeps getting bigger.

She’s frustrated and lonely.  He is angry and focuses all of his energy on work.  Yesterday they were trying to pick a place to grab dinner.  Here’s what happened:

       Christina starts:   “I’m hungry.  Let’s grab dinner.”
            “Sounds good to me.  What do you feel like eating?” Brad asks.
          “I don’t know…you?”  replies Christina.
             “I feel like pizza.  Let’s do that,” he says licking his lips.
           “I don’t want pizza,’ she complains.
               “Okay, what do you want then?” Brad asks again, this time with a tone of frustration.
            “I don’t know,” she says with a puzzled look on her face.
                 “What about seafood?” Brad suggests, desperately wanting to make a decision.
               “No.  That doesn’t sound good to me,” Christina responds.
                     “You always put down every idea I make.” Brad storms out of the room.

Christina starts crying.  She feels lonely again.  How has something so small turned into something so big?  What are they really fighting about?

According to the Einstein of Love, Dr. John Gottman, the #1 thing couples fight about is nothing. Sometimes relationships feel like we are emotionally shooting each other over the simplest things. Things can blow up over which show to watch on Netflix, where to go to dinner, or which part of the house needs cleaning first.

Meaningless Fights Can Make or Break Trust
Rarely do couples ever sit down, create an agenda, and argue over a specific topic such as finances. Sometimes they do, but typically they hurt each other’s feelings in seemingly meaningless moments that appear to be about absolutely nothing.

What matters is not the fight itself.  What matters is how partners respond to negative emotions in the relationship.  If couples see the conflict as an opportunity for growth, they can attune to each other and increase their understanding of one another, deepening their trust in each other and in the relationship….which is what I attempt to help couples do while they are in counseling)

If partners dismiss the negative emotions in these situations, they may eventually reconnect with one another, but trust will erode a little.  Over time, small and meaningless incidents will compound until partners are left feeling hurt, sad, and alone.

Instead of reaching out for each other’s hand, you begin pointing fingers and crossing arms.  Instead of talking all night, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

Maybe it’s been so long since you connected with each other that you feel like cellmates instead of soulmates.

Why Relationships Fail
Negative events will always happen in relationships, but that isn’t what turns us into cellmates. Relationships fail when couples begin to focus on the problems they create, not the love that partners offer.

Practically every moment of your life is narrated by a voice in your head.  That voice is either going to remind you how amazing your partner is or how terrible they are to you.  Those stories are then rehearsed repeatedly in your mind.  If your story is focused on the negative, you slowly disconnect.

There is a point in our relationships when the negative story takes over and dominates all the positive stories of our lover.  Even if our partner does something nice for us, it is still a selfish person doing something nice.  A person we can’t trust.

Fights are Inevitable in Relationships
Incidents like Christina’s and Brad’s are inevitable in all relationships.  According to Dr. Gottman, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time.  This leaves 91 % of our relationship ripe for miscommunication.

While many see conflict in a relationship as a sign of incompatibility, it should be seen as a sign that the relationship needs growth to occur   Typical conflicts are merely a reminder that a relationship is two different people working together to understand differences and love each other despite flaws.

What Makes Love Last?
When conflict occurs in a relationship, partners need to come together to understand each other better.  Trust is built when we are reminded that our partner is there for us.  They reach out for us or grab our hand when we reach out for them,.  We realize our needs matter to our partner.  We forget the details about our hurt, and the negative event in the relationship slips from our mind.

Now when our partner  is thoughtless, emotionally distant, or mean to us, the story we tell ourselves is that they are “stressed.”  We trust them, so we repair the incident and reconnect with one another.  Laughter and affection fill our disagreements because we know that this event will be resolved and our relationship will be better because of it.

So when a negative event happens in your relationship, don’t shoot each other’s hearts over nothing but misunderstanding.  Use the event to build trust, deepen your relationship, and make it the best damn love story you’ve ever seen!

Picture of Jim Covington

Jim Covington

Jim Covington (M.Div. MA, LMFT) has been helping couples improve their relationships for more than 30 years. He holds degrees are in psychology and theology, is a licensed New York marriage and family therapist, a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists and has been trained in multiple approaches to marital/couples therapy and family therapy.

He has completed Level 3 Practicum Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, externship training with the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples and PREP (Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program), and employs Solution Oriented Brief Therapy as taught by Michelle Weiner-Davis.
Picture of Jim Covington

Jim Covington

Jim Covington (M.Div. MA, LMFT) has been helping couples improve their relationships for more than 30 years. He holds degrees are in psychology and theology, is a licensed New York marriage and family therapist, a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists and has been trained in multiple approaches to marital/couples therapy and family therapy.

He has completed Level 3 Practicum Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, externship training with the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples and PREP (Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program), and employs Solution Oriented Brief Therapy as taught by Michelle Weiner-Davis.