I am often presented with clients having very heated arguments about trivial aspects of life. How and when dishes are washed up, constantly checking the phone, not picking up underwear from the bedroom floor are just some of the issues I’ve heard couples say have produced unpleasant arguments. Despite the intensity of the arguments when they take a step back they themselves realise that these are trivial issues really. However, that doesn’t stop the arguments.

The reason for this is often not what it is but what it means. As you talk with couples about what these things mean one might say that it is unimportant whilst the other can articulate that it represents a much wider issue. If you leave your underwear on the bedroom floor it means someone else must pick it up which can mean to them that they are more of a servant than a partner. Leaving the toilet lid up can mean that you are not thoughtful and don’t care about your partner. Being on your phone can mean to your partner that you’d rather be somewhere else and that your partner isn’t that interesting or worth spending quality time with. Often the trivial are totems for wider concerns in the relationship. If you insist you can do the washing or fill the dishwasher properly then the inference is that your partner lacks the competency to carry out these tasks.

What can be referred to as “nagging” is often an attempt to be heard about a particular issue which one partner sees as trivial but the other feels  are important and need to be listened to and not ignored. How couples can better handle these situations is about good and clear communication. If you find yourselves arguing over the small stuff then it can be helpful to explore the meaning behind the emotions. It is important to recognise that an issue exists and avoid minimising it as silly. A discussion around why what is happening provokes strong emotions is important so that the underlying issue is addressed.

The reality tends to be that when a relationship is going well some of the annoyances mentioned above can be overlooked as they’ll be enough positivity in the relationship to give our partner the benefit of the doubt. However, when we hit a rocky patch these habits can take on a greater meaning and become symbolic of wider relationship issues. Whilst working through issues, it is often helpful to highlight the need for continued appreciation in other aspects of the relationship.