Asking a married couple if they fight is like asking casting agents if they love giving Stanley Tucci charming dad roles. Because duh. When people spend so much time together and invest so much in one another, nerves get frayed. Some arguing is inevitable. And that’s not always bad news. After all, clever people clapping back at each other, as sitcoms taught us, can be pretty damn fun.
Spouse 1: “I’m pretty sure you’re wrong.”
Spouse 2: “Okay. Do you want some ketchup? Barbecue sauce? Chipotle mayo?”
Spouse 1: “Huh? For what?”
Spouse 2: “To use when I make you eat your words.”
See? Fun. But there are a lot of silly, recurring spats that couples can get into. Like arguments about loud chewing or why one partner keeps their laundry on the floor because WHAT IS THIS A DORM, SHARON? These also happen but aren’t so much fun. The good news, then, is that, while they can sometimes be a signifier of deeper fault lines in a relationship, they’re often pretty easy to solve. Here, a pair of couples therapists weigh in on some common fights married couples have and offer some advice on how to prevent them from burning down the house.
1. The “There are Dishes in the Sink and Socks on the Floor” Fight
What it’s Really about: You’re taking your relationship for granted or at least it seems like you are.
Why it’s Silly: You’re not really arguing about the dishes. “You know there definitely are bigger issues at play than the fact that somebody never puts their socks away or somebody leaves wet towels on the floor after taking a shower,” says Texas-based sex and family therapist Jaclyn Cravens Pickens.
Advice for Ending it: Step one: do the dishes. Step two: understand that it’s not about the towels and create ways your relationship can grow. “You have to look at what’s below the surface and how those situations make you feel,” Cravens Pickens says.
2. The “Stop Staring at the Screen” Fight
What it’s Really about: Intentionally or not, you’re telling your partner they’re not a priority for you. “You’re communicating nonverbally to your partner that whatever on your phone or on your iPad is more important than what your partner is saying to you in person,” Cravens Pickens said.
Why it’s Silly: You would almost certainly enjoy talking to your partner more than checking your phone. “You’re missing out on opportunities for a really valuable connection with one another because that moment is being interrupted by technology,” Cravens Pickens said.
Advice for Ending it: Set designated times when neither of you will use technology. “Whenever couples bring this up in session I talk to them about have intentional times in which you are technology free,” Cravens Pickens said. “So if it’s a date night and we’re going out to dinner, have an agreement that, barring emergency situations, we put our phones away.”
3. The “Why Are You Chewing so Loudly?” Fight
Why it’s Silly: Unless you stick to oatmeal and soup for every meal you share with your partner, you’ve got to chew. Even then, you’d slurp and the vicious circle will start anew.
What it’s Really About: You’ve been together a long time and the honeymoon is over. “When you were first dating, you were willing to write it off,” Cravens Pickens said. “But seven years later it gets under your skin.”
Advice for Ending It: You need to talk and figure out what the real problem is. “If couples continue to have the same fight over and over again, consider ‘why?’” Cravens Pickens said. “Each partner should consider why this issue makes them so upset and try to get to the root of the issue.”
4. The “How Can You Be so Cheap?” Fight
You want to save. Your partner thinks life’s too short to not have fun. After a while, every purchase sparks a fight.
What’s it really about: It’s about your expectations for your lives together and your need to communicate.
Why it’s Silly: Sniping over money never makes anything better. But communicating about spending can relieve a lot of stress.
Advice for Ending it: California-based family and relationship therapist Craig Lambert recommends couples make a budget together. “That’s a straightforward way to look at our numbers and to be as transparent as we possibly can with each other,” Lambert said.
5. The “It’s Just a Little Partying. What’s The Problem?” Fight
What it’s Really About: Your partner is questioning your priorities.
Why it’s Silly: If you’re arguing about hitting an odd joint or knocking back a couple Coronas on a weekend evening, it’s probably silly. If you’re dabbling in oxycontin or getting blackout drunk on a Tuesday, it’s a lot less silly.
Advice for Ending it: If you feel your recreational substance intake isn’t a big deal and your partner does, you might consider changing your behavior anyway. “Some fights may not have a solution that works for both partners,” Cravens Pickens said.
6. The “Please, Pay Attention to Me” Argument
What it’s Really About: You’re feeling taken for granted by your partner when they ignore you.
Why it’s Silly: The story you were telling probably wasn’t the most important conversation in the world.
Advice for Ending it: Keep a sense of perspective. It’s just one moment among many you’ll spend together. “Don’t allow small issues to escalate into bringing up past, bigger issues,” Cravens Pickens said. ”Being upset that your partner answered a call during a serious conversation should not lead to one person bringing up the fact that ‘you are always on your phone when I am talking to you, and just last week, etc.’”
7. The “You Sit So Far Away From Me” Spat
What it’s Really About: You spend a lot of time together but it’s not meaningful. There’s a lack of emotional intimacy and connection between partners.
Why it’s Silly: It’s possible to read too much into body language. Sometimes people need their space.
Advice for Ending it: Schedule some quality time together and make a genuine attempt to connect through shared interests. “One of the first things I like to ask is ‘when was the last time you went on a date together?’” Lambert said. “Are you doing things together? Do you have hobbies or activities or are you going out and having fun with friends?”
8. The “What Does Your Mother Want Now?” Dust Up
What it’s Really About: When in-laws are constantly underfoot, you feel like you have no control over your life. You married out of love, not because you wanted to live out scenes from Everybody Loves Raymond in real life.
Why it’s Silly: You’re all family and want the best for each other.
Advice for ending it: You and your partner have to work together to set boundaries. That will involve some compromises and communication. “Not to sound too general but communication is probably the number one issue that pops up into the office,” Lambert said. “And that really has a lot to do with whether they’re sharing their feelings and listening to one another.”