How to Stop Arguing Over the Smallest Things | Relationship Advice
Do you ever find you and your partner arguing over the tiniest things? Something so small that a day later you don’t even remember what you fought about? Well today I’m going to talk about why this happens and how to stop doing it. So you can stop arguing over the smallest things and get on living your life!
Now Arguing about small things, we have all been there. We are all there right now! And I would argue that arguments over small things are actually harder to deal with than arguments over big things.
Say for example your spouse cheats on you with their coworker. There is no doubt who is at fault who needs to apologize, etc. But when it’s a small argument, its there is a difference in reality. To you, it’s a big deal but to your spouse it’s nothing. So it’s hard to get on the same page. And you end up fighting about whether or not it’s a big deal.
So much of this has to do with communication, unspoken wants and needs and misguided assumptions. And I’m going to help you wade through some of this today.
So let’s get started with some Do’s and Don’ts to stop arguing about the smallest things:
For the person who is angry/annoyed:
Do: be mindful about when you are starting to get annoyed.
Take a breath. When you are annoyed, I know the first thing you want to do is let it out. My advice is to slow down a little and think about what outcome you want. Don’t settle for short term gains–yelling and getting angry are short term forms of relief. However, you will end up arguing with your partner potentially for hours or days. So think about your goal.
Do: figure out why this small thing bothers you so much.
What does this small thing symbolize? For example, I see a lot of wives who ask their husbands to run small errands while coming home from work and the husband forgets. The wife, in return, gets very angry. Why does this happen? Come to realize that the wife knew her husband was very on top of things at work but when it came to home, the husband was more relaxed. She felt that he cared less about home than work and felt less important. Less valued and ignored.
So when she could communicate why it hurt her so much, the husband was more open to hearing her. When she could say “it hurts when I see you put so much energy into finishing tasks at work but you forget just a small thing for us, I feel forgotten and unimportant.”
VS “you always forget. You are so irresponsible and I don’t even know why I bother asking.”
Maybe you don’t want to go that deep for whatever reason, you can communicate using the lighter version:
Do: Use the sandwich method.
The sandwich method is simply two sides of bread which is positive, and the meat which is your ask. I simple template like this can be used:
“I appreciate that you ______________ (made dinner for the kids)“or
“I know that you ___________________(are exhausted from working 12 hour days)”
“I’d love it if you could remember to put the milk away. I don’t want it to spoil and not having to see it out and worry about it would really just make things easier for me.”
I know you do a lot for us, so doing this one other small thing would really help.
Do: Be mindful of your tone.
So much of our communication is body language and tone of voice. If you come to your partner with a negative tone, your spouse is likely to be defensive and not give you the listening ear and validation that you need. Sometimes just reminding yourself that your spouse in general is a good person, a good partner, and all the things that you are grateful for can help calm you down so you can communicate in a constructive way.
For the receiver of the complaint:
Do: Take the ask seriously.
Maybe the issue is small to you but it probably has a deeper meaning for your spouse. Don’t ever assume that this is an issue about “going to the grocery store.” Ninety nine percent of the time, there’s something else underneath.
So if for your spouse you keep forgetting to go to the grocery store, basically you are telling her over and over again” you are not important.” and this erodes trust in the relationship.
On the other hand, you just remembering to do the little things makes a huge difference. It shows you value your spouse, it shows you understand what is important and you are taking it seriously and not blowing it off. You will come across as dependable and trustworthy.
And this is for doing the small things.
Don’t: tell your partner that they get mad about “the littlest things.”
Or that they get angry over things that “aren’t important.” Maybe it is important to them. Your partner is not you and does not hold everything that you hold important and unimportant in the same way. Try to understand why things are important and try to come up with a compromise that will help your partner be heard and understood. If you can do this, this will build trust, and they are likely to loosen up their expectations as well.
Do: Validate, own up to your mistake and fix it.
A simple “oh shoot, I forgot, sorry about that, I’ll go right now. I’ll try to remember next time by setting an alarm on my phone.” Takes about 30 seconds to say but can prevent hours worth of arguing.
Do: look to make permanent changes.
Do not do it for a few weeks until you’re in your partner’s good graces again and then go back to what you did before. This will erode trust in your relationship. Make your best effort to do it for good. If you cannot, talk to your partner about why and come up with a good compromise.
For the person who is angry/annoyed:
Do: look for progress, not perfection.
If you see that your partner is genuinely trying, give them some grace to mess up from time to time. Understand that (like I said above), what is important to you may not be important to them, so give them some time to adjust and build a new habit.
Do: Affirm and appreciate when your partner is trying to make a change.
Your SO is doing this for you and they do it because they love you and want you to be happy. Your affirmation helps solidify that this new habit is something worth doing. Just like with our kids, we want to connect a good behavior with a reward so they want to keep doing the good behavior. If your partner connects putting the milk away, washing the dishes, helping with the kids, with a “thank you, that really helps!”, they will be more likely to do it.
You may be thinking “I have to appreciate my partner for something they should already be doing?!?” I hear this a lot. I’m not here to say what is right or wrong, only what works. And if you want your partner to change their behavior, appreciation is a way to reinforce the desired outcome. If something inside you doesn’t feel right doing this, I would suggest you talk this out with your therapist or trusted person to figure out if there are deeper issues going on.
So try those things and see if you don’t start seeing your arguments become smaller, shorter and less explosive.
About the author: Lia Huynh LMFT is a therapist who specializes in high conflict couples. Her private practice serves the San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas areas of California. She also sees people all over the state of California through online therapy. If you’d like to learn more about her, click here for more information.