5 Common Causes of Petty Bickering in Relationships


Do you and your partner often find yourselves embroiled in petty arguments? Do you have trouble being able to pinpoint what started them? Do you find yourselves bogged down in daily bouts of bickering, with no real solution in sight? Do you long for calmer conditions in your relationship or marriage?

Anyone who has been in a romantic partnership knows that conflicts are inevitable. When two people—who each have their own ideas, opinions, and ways of handling daily tasks—combine their lives, it’s normal to have points of contention.

Dramatic, blowout fights may stir up a lot of emotion, and they’re certainly cause for concern. But perhaps a more insidious marital issue is the common, everyday bickering that pervades some couples’ interactions.

Over time, seemingly petty marital problems can chip away at a relationship, leading to longstanding resentment, distrust, and loss of respect or love. And, as we’ll explore here, they’re often not petty problems at all—they can hint at much deeper issues.

Over time, seemingly petty problems can chip away at a relationship, leading to longstanding resentment, distrust, and loss of respect or love. Click To Tweet


It’s true that constant bickering can point to a core incompatibility between two people. But it often simply stems from an inability to communicate in healthier ways. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t learn (or get to observe) these skills during our youth.

Then, as adults, we move from one problematic relationship to the next, wondering why we can’t find a lasting connection. Evaluate your and your partner’s habits to see if one or more of these causes might be the culprit(s) behind your relationship problems.

1. Upbringing and family dynamics

Those who have experienced childhood trauma and/or a lack of positive adult role models while growing up may have underdeveloped communication tactics. This can lead to a variety of unhealthy behaviors in relationships.

Some people self-sabotage by picking fights because they don’t feel worthy of a loving relationship or are afraid of true intimacy. Some people simply never learned how to be in touch with their own feelings, much less how to communicate them calmly and effectively. Others simply want attention or care, but they don’t know how to ask for it, so they obtain negative attention by initiating petty conflicts.

Past trauma should never be ignored, as its effects can be far-reaching—and damaging to oneself and others. For these kinds of issues, marital therapy or couples therapy may be a helpful start to pinpoint where these problems originate and learning how to address them in a healthy way.

You may discover more about attachment styles, how to boost interpersonal skills, and strategies to resolve recurring issues. The goal is to ultimately restore trust and communication within your partnership, making those petty fights (or at least most of them) a thing of the past.

2. Power struggles

Most couples experience minor power struggles within their relationship, but in general, there should be a well-distributed power balance. This means that partners maintain an environment of fairness and mutual respect, embracing a give-and-take attitude.

On the other hand, imbalances can take many forms. Perhaps one person feels like they have to “walk on eggshells” to not upset a volatile partner. Or maybe there is a severely lopsided split in daily responsibilities, combined with “scorekeeping” and a lack of mutual gratitude. These kinds of issues can foster an unhealthy relationship that is rife with dissatisfaction.

Compromise, sharing household duties, and listening to each others’ needs and desires are some tactics that will help both parties feel better understood and valued. If one person is consciously or unconsciously trying to control the other through insidious tactics like manipulation or instilling fear, there are clearly some toxic tendencies at play (see #4, below).

However, smaller concerns can be greatly improved by learning healthier relationship strategies designed to transform the way a couple interacts.

3. Larger issues within the relationship

Relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman has famously said that the #1 thing couples fight about is…nothing. When two people argue over seemingly insignificant things, like the “right” way to load the dishwasher, there’s usually a larger issue at hand.

That’s when we witness rapid escalation. For example, a repeatedly ignored request for a partner to not leave dishes in the sink generates sweeping statements like “He always ignores me” or “She doesn’t care about my feelings.”

That’s why it’s key, when these issues crop up, to remain calm and dig a little deeper. What’s the real problem? Does one person feel insecure, unheard, disrespected, or unappreciated? Are outside stressors, like work or kids, adding pressure on the partners? If so, it’s important to have an outlet to address those issues in a healthy way so they don’t negatively impact the relationship.

Think of petty arguments like a smoke alarm, alerting you to a fundamental issue in your partnership. Would you ignore a fire, assuming it will improve or disappear on its own? Of course not. So make sure you attend to any problems that arise—no matter how small—and discover what lessons they have to teach you about your relationship.

Using patience and an open mind, you’ll inevitably find that you and your partner can improve your dynamics for more peaceful interactions. And you’ll get much closer and more resilient along the way.

4. Toxic relationship tendencies

Sometimes, relationships veer into damaging territory—what we often refer to as toxic relationships. These kinds of partnerships can create adverse effects on the mental health of one or both partners. It’s imperative to look out for certain warning signs, such as:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Controlling behavior or power imbalance
  • Poor communication, such as not listening, interrupting, or belittling a partner’s point of view
  • Explosive emotional outbursts or reactions that instill fear

The bottom line is, if you don’t feel emotionally safe in your relationship, or if you consistently don’t feel heard or respected, those concerns should be discussed immediately. One exception is abuse, in which case it is advised to leave the relationship as soon as possible.

If your partner makes no effort to improve these issues after discussing them, it might be time to try couples therapy. Or you might find the situation irreparable and choose to separate permanently. Remember that while relationships require ongoing work and compromise, they should be enhancing your life, not detracting from it.

5. Brain dysfunction

Many people, even therapists, aren’t aware that problems in the brain can lead to a variety of behaviors that impact relationships. These can include:

  • Poor decision-making or impulse control
  • Seeking conflict
  • Intimacy issues
  • Chronic pessimism or criticism
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Infidelity
  • Abusive tendencies

Left untreated, these can take a real toll on both partners’ well-being, leading to symptoms like chronic stress, depression, inflammation in the body, heart problems, diabetes, obesity, and compromised immune function. They can also end a relationship, leading to divorce.


This is why you need to seek out couples therapy—also called marriage counseling or relationship counseling—that goes above and beyond the normal “talking it out” strategy. Look for mental health professionals who understand the importance of underlying brain health issues, and who use technology such as brain SPECT imaging to root out these problems.

With an effective plan for healing, couples can move forward in a healthier way and rescue a relationship that’s on the rocks. Or it may help pinpoint objective reasons for leaving and help you build the strength to walk away from an unhealthy situation—and save yourself from any further damage.

Marital conflict and troubled relationships can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


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