Fighting Over Small Things

A lot of couples come to therapy citing a series of squabbles over petty issues. Here’s the first thing I tell them:

There are no fights over small things. All fights are about big things. We blame them on small things in order to distract us from the real issues, which are very painful to broach.

When we think we’re fighting over many small things, it’s really about one or two big things we’re trying hard to avoid.

But the longer we avoid them the bigger they become. The flood of hard feelings puts more and more pressure on my emotional dam… eventually I start springing leaks. As time goes on the leaks become more frequent and the triggers get smaller and smaller…

Until finally the littlest things set me off.

But they’re just the triggers of the leaks, they’re not the issue generating the pressure.

And you point to this small thing that set me off and say “That’s no big deal, why are you so worked up about it?”

And I know you’re right…

And we talk about how small this thing is and how my reaction is so over the top…

And then it’s settled.

And I still don’t feel better.

And we never discuss the real reason I’m so upset…

And we don’t relieve any of the pressure on the dam…

And here comes the next small thing!

A good therapist helps identify the bigger issues and provides a safe place to discuss them. Working together toward releasing blame and building compassionate understanding, this grows intimacy.

This relieves the pressure on the dam.

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