After a few years together, it's easy to bicker with your partner over mundane stuff. Nitpicking each other about the minute details of daily life can feel involuntary — you know you're being unreasonable and crabby, but it's just so hard to stop yourself in the moment. Here's one simple technique to stop bickering dead in its tracks.
Illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.
I can't tell you how many pointless arguments I've overheard from my clients and friends. Fights over the proper way to make a devilled egg, whether or not sunscreen is a necessity, the correct pronunciation of "envelope", whether a shirt is dark blue or black, the date of the last time one person called their mother and so many more. It should go without saying that these kinds of petty arguments are frustrating, create ill will between partners, and are just plain exhausting.
Nothing ever feels resolved, and the same topics keep surfacing over and over.
Why Do We Bicker?
If bickering is so harmful, why do couples bicker in the first place? Sometimes it's because we're afraid to be honest about the things that are really bothering us, so we use a pointless argument to get out our frustrations. Sometimes we nitpick because we want that sense of power and control over our partner. Sometimes we bicker because we don't have the energy for proper communication.
Most couples, however, are fighting about who is "right". As I watch couples bicker in my office, I realise that often, they're obsessed with who is suggesting the exact right decision. There's an element of perfectionism that has seeped into most couples' fights. Of course there are some decisions that require careful thinking, but there are a countless number of choices that don't have any real importance. We're wasting so much energy bickering about decisions that just don't matter.
One potential reason for this may be the fact that we're faced with an endless number of decisions on a day-to-day basis. A simple trip to the supermarket to buy toothpaste can result in a decision paralysis. Do we need the whitening? Or the brightening? Tartar control? Total care? All of these options cause this meaningless decision to become loaded with importance. This perfectionism spills over into our relationships and causes us to bicker over stupid stuff like the exact right gift to buy for a birthday party (A candle? Flowers? A bottle of wine?) or the exact right time to leave to get to dinner (7:15? 7:30? 7:35?).
The Anti-Bickering Decision Flowchart
The bottom line is that we all have too many choices on our plates and don't need to pick every single option to death, especially since doing so creates so much tension in our relationships. If you find yourself bickering with your partner, try using this simple technique:
- To yourself, name the decision that you're feeling tempted to bicker about. "We're arguing about how many speeds our new blender should have." Sometimes just stating the obvious is enough to cool you down.
- Next, ask yourself some version of, "Does this really matter to me?", "Do I really care about this?" or "Does this have any actual consequence in my life?"
- More often than not, you'll probably find yourself answering, "No, driving to the restaurant on Main Street instead of State Street really doesn't have any actual effect on my life." If that's the case, take a deep breath and keep quiet. If the answer is yes, make sure you have a specific reason. "Yes, it is important that the dog goes on a walk now" isn't great, but, "Yes, it is important that the dog goes on a walk now because we're leaving for the rest of the day" is fine. From there, ask yourself, "is what my partner is proposing a good enough solution?" If it is, go with it without voicing your opinion. Don't negate this whole process with something snarky like, "well, my choice would have been better, but I guess we can do it your way." If the option isn't good enough, walking through this multi-step process should have calmed you down a bit to the point where you can state your wishes more objectively.
Please note that the key words in that last part are good enough. It doesn't need to be the decision you would have chosen, the exact right decision, or the perfect decision. Just a good enough option. By lowering the bar on your choices, you'll find it to be a lot easier to stop bickering in its tracks. Save your brainpower for the big stuff.
Of course, the urge to nitpick is occasionally going to overrule your ability to be analytical, but this method should become more natural with time, and will allow you a number of opportunities to be thoughtful about your decisions.