Marriage Arguments: Fighting About Little Things Can Mean a Lot

Arguments about small things are a signal that it’s time to find the big issues and firmly, but lovingly put an end to them.


When I was working on my degree in clinical psychology, I lived in a small apartment with paper thin walls in Vista, California.

The neighbors who lived on the west side of my apartment were a young couple in their twenties. To say that their relationship had problems is like saying if you fall into Niagara Falls you will get a little wet. Their marriage arguments were hard to drown out with my TV.

When they were mad at each other, there was constant shouting and when they were very mad with each other, there was complete silence.

Being their neighbor rather than their counselor, I found myself hoping they would be very mad at each other so that I could have some peace and quiet in my own apartment.

The interesting thing was that when they were shouting at each other, they were always blaming each other for things that did not seem to be very important.

In the time it takes to drive to the store and buy a whole cart load of groceries, the husband could repeatedly blame his wife  for forgetting to buy the milk and always forgetting things, while the wife could spend the entire time blaming her husband  for always expecting her to be a mind reader.

Why would a couple spend so much time blaming each other for small things?

It certainly wasn’t helping their relationship and it wasn’t really fixing their problems. I got the answer one day when I noticed that a woman would sometimes visit their apartment while the wife was working. The husband’s routine with this “guest” seemed quite different from that with his wife and from the sound of things, they had quite a good time.

Sometimes fighting about things creates an emotional distance that people actually want.

It is very hard for the average human being to cheat on someone he has a good relationship with. But if the relationship is not so good, if there is something to hold against his wife, then it becomes easier to rationalize his (or her) behavior, like having an affair.

Marriage arguments are also common from people who are having difficulty being committed to their spouse for other reasons.

Sometimes when people first  commit to a relationship, it’s not done wholeheartedly, and even after the marriage ceremony there remains much doubt. Emotional distancing can be a way of trying to hold on to independence and individuality even while married.  This is common for people who marry very young or when people marry after having been single for most of their life.  And people who were previously committed to  their relationship may push away if they feel they are being controlled by their husband or wife.

Emotional distancing can also be used to rationalize heavy drinking, drug abuse, computer gaming, pornography addictions, and other harmful behaviors.

A close relationship would take away the person’s excuse to behave this way. Does your spouse blame you for everything? See this for what it is–a defensive reaction to shift attention away from your partner’s problems. Of course you are not to blame for your husband’s or wife’s problems. Don’t be distracted into looking for the problem within yourself. Angry people are often people who spend a lot of energy pointing their fingers at others so that they don’t need to look at themselves. Blaming helps people to feel justified for their emotional distance and their choice to damaging things, like overspending, affairs, frequently staying out late, or even refusing to go to bed with you.

No matter anything your husband or wife tells you that you did, it doesn’t really justify his or her behavior.

The reason is that your husband or wife could have responded in a better way.  He or she could go to drug or alcohol rehab; she can work on her relationship with you.  Together or separately, you both could have consulted a relationship coach or marriage counselor.  We can decide to break the cycle of arguing by not justifying our own distancing based on our husband’s or wife’s behavior.  To start to change things you need to realize that you have more choices than to either fight or withdraw.  Because neither of these choices will fix anything.

When our spouse is the one creating the distance, we have a better choice than just creating more.

First, we can look at a couple of things.  1) Is our spouse arguing in order to create a comfortable emotional distance from us; and 2) Is our spouse pushing us away because he or she feels pushed away by us?   Sometimes when the arguments have gone on for a while, the original reason for arguing is long gone.  Then it’s all attack and defense with no good reason at all.  Knowing which is the case will help us to react in an appropriate way.

As a relationship coach, I help people to do the unexpected thing–the effective and loving thing.

I help people to make their husband’s or wife’s bad behavior toward them not work anymore.  Imagine if your husband or wife pushes you away with petty arguments and you respond in a way that is actually loving and assertive (but never, ever sarcastic).  What would happen?  Interestingly, instead of your husband or wife pushing away more, he or she would tends to decrease the  bad behavior.  Real communication would start to happen. Then there would be less need for games, pornography, affairs, etc.  Remember–to be effective, your response must make your spouse’s actions toward you not work anymore.  At the same time, you will need to have a way to set good boundaries and help him or her feel loved.  Like a lock and a key love and boundaries must be used together to be effective.

It goes against our natural tendencies to help someone who is hurting us.

But, that is part of love.  Feeling “in love” comes naturally, but loving when things are hard takes guts. We need to help our husband or wife to have the best relationship with us as possible.  We need to work for our spouse’s benefit because that is to our benefit to.  We need to see our husband or wife as an imperfect human being who is doing what he or she knows to get a little bit of happiness out of life.  Of course, you need your spouse’s love too.  I help my clients to be both strong and loving. I don’t teach them to be patient and loving because that’s not going to fix a bad situation. And to think about breaking up over stupid arguments? I don’t think so.


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