Are you married or involved in a long-term relationship? If so, what would you say to a therapist who suggests that most of the fights you have with your partner are really about nothing at all? Such a statement would be hard for many people to wrap their brains around. After all, fights generally start off revolving around a single topic – even if they do not stay on topic throughout.
It turns out that the idea may be correct, depending on how you define your terms. According to well-known relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, “the number one thing that couples fight about is exactly that: nothing.” You can hear the good doctor’s remarks in a YouTube video available on the Gottman Institute website.
‘Nothing’ Doesn’t Mean ‘No Topic’
Gottman’s assertion that couples fight about nothing is controversial only in the sense that people conflate ‘nothing’ with ‘no topic’. That is not really what Gottman is talking about. Rather, he asserts that most couples do not argue over anything of substance, most of the time.
There are occasions when serious discussions about serious topics devolve into arguments. But Gottman maintains that such disagreements are the exception to the rule. He believes that most arguments are had over meaningless topics. For example, couples fight over:
- what to have for dinner
- what to watch on tv
- whose turn it is to take out the garbage
- who emptied the dishwasher last.
Such disagreements still need to be resolved so that they do not fester under the surface. But couples do not have to fight over such minor things. It is far better to compromise over meaningless disagreements. Do that and couples can learn how to compromise over the more serious ones.
Fights Are Rarely Planned
Relationships & More, a Westchester County, NY clinic that offers couples’ and relationship counseling, echo Dr. Gottman’s sentiments to some degree. They maintain that fights between couples are rarely planned. Instead, they evolve from discussions that started out as minor disagreements.
So how do couples get from minor disagreement to full-blown fight? It is not just one thing. Multiple things combine to create an environment conducive to fighting:
- Not Listening – Couples not listening to one another leads to misunderstandings, assumptions, etc. A failure to listen can easily lead to stronger assertions as each party is attempting to make his or her case.
- Negative Emotions – Minor disagreements are a breeding ground for negative emotions. When those emotions are entertained rather than dealt with, they can interfere with the ability to communicate rationally. That only increases the chances of fighting.
- Accusations – When minor disagreements begin to devolve, parties have a tendency of accusing one another of all sorts of things. Escalating accusations only escalate the disagreement.
- Unwillingness to Compromise – The one thing that starts the ball rolling is an unwillingness to compromise. Most of the meaningless fights couples have could be avoided if they could just find a compromise solution early on.
It does not take much to get from minor disagreement to legitimate flight. In most cases, it takes a lot more to recover from a fight than it did to get into the fight to begin with.
Not Worth Fighting Over
The overall concept of Dr. Gottman’s assertions is pretty basic: a lot of the things that lead to fights are actually not worth fighting over. They are meaningless topics fueled by an unwillingness to try to understand one another or learn to compromise. That is too bad. Fighting over meaningless things only makes maintaining a strong relationship that much harder.