What do couples really argue about?

What do couples really argue about?

For this post, I reference;

Young, M. (2005). Creating a Confluence: An Interview With Susan Johnson and John Gottman. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 13(2), 219-225.

I posed the same question to some of my friends and they gave me so many answers. With their permission let me share with you some of them.

  • Not respecting one another
  • Not respecting each other’s boundaries
  • Not doing the dishes or cleaning up
  • Being told what to do over and over again!
  • They fight about money
  • The children
  • Sex

All valid answers!

Well, the short answer is, couples argue about nothing.


Seriously! Couples argue about nothing.

Drs John and Julie Gottman’s (who for me are the Gurus of research in couple relationship) their research found couples argue about nothing.

It’s hard to believe because we see and hear couples argue all around us. We’ve seen our parents argue, our relatives argue with their partners and even close friends and their partners argue. Or even when we go out to restaurants or shopping malls. Some couples argue so hard and get upset with other another that it could lead to divorce or separation. Some couple copes with their problems and doesn’t get it resolved for years. They can’t be arguing about ‘nothing’!

So what’s really happening when couples argue?

Here are Some Scenarios

Like the remote control for the TV. One partner may ask, ‘What on tonight?’ The other may respond ‘wait I was watching that! Why did you change the channel?’. Then the other partner responds with frustration and maybe anger,’Fine! Have it your way. You always have it your way!’ And walks off. So what did the couple fight about? Nothing.

Let’s take another situation.

Julie’s deciding where to go for a romantic getaway. One partner may want to splurge on that romantic getaway may be because you think you both have worked hard and deserve it. While John doesn’t want to spend that money and decide to have a cheaper holiday. Instead of talking it through, they end up arguing over it, with pouted mouths and arms crossed. As a result, feelings are hurt and you don’t go on holiday. What was supposed to be a romantic getaway, turns into a fight over nothing?

There are plenty of examples like these, that occur in couple relationships.

Demon Dialogue

So what is actually happening that is making the partners upset? Let’s not look at the content of the argument for a minute because we know couples argue about nothing.

What matters is how partners respond to each other. Notice how they respond to the negative emotions that come up in the relationship. Negative emotions are met with the partner’s negative response which in turn solicit a negative response from the other partner which eventually becomes a negative pattern of communication. When couples engage in this ‘Demon Dialogue‘ both partners will feel hurt.

Hurt Sad and Alone

When partners respond to their conflict like this, they may reconnect later but trust in their relationship will chip away a little. Over time these arguments about nothing will compound and eventually partners will be left feeling hurt, sad and alone.

What can Couples do?

So instead of pointing fingers and crossing arms, talk to each other in a calm manner. If you can’t, then leave the conversation for another day. Yes, you can go to bed angry. (I wrote something about that here.)

When you can broach the subject again, listen to each other’s emotions. Talk about what is going on for the other person and why it’s important to them. Maybe it is a dream to go on holiday or important to relax and snuggle in front of the TV. (It’s definitely not a TV programme.) It may be about spending time next to you.

Turn the ‘Demon Dialogue’ into listening to your partner’s attachment needs and what they need to feel loved and emotionally safe. If you can increase your understanding and clarity of the situation and their emotional need, this deepens trust for each other and the relationship becomes stronger.


I use to analyse the content of an argument to see if I can find a solution to the problem that couples are facing. However, now I find couples argue about nothing. It’s not the content that we need to focus our energy on. Its the Demon Dialogues that they get into when they are in argument mode. Demon Dialogues are negative patterns of behaviour that turn a couple from feeling loved and secure to feeling hurt, sad and alone. You can read more about Demon Dialogues here.

If you think your relationship can benefit from some help or if you have any queries or if you are ready to make an appointment, please email me here.  I am happy to help with your relationship.