By Stacey Rose, PhD, LCSW
One might think that when a couple goes to see a therapist they are stressed about big things. Not so. It is actually the ‘little things’ that couples fight about. Here are some recent ‘little things’ that I have heard about: toothpaste caps, what a wife had for lunch, the quality of pumpkin, and how many sit-ups will actually flatten a tummy. I certainly don’t want to make light of these ‘issues’. But at the same time, I know that there is usually, or should I say, always, a hidden message. It is often easier for a couple to focus on these more superficial issues then to say what they actually feel. For example, the couple who fought over which pumpkin to choose for their eight month old baby were truly talking about who knew what was best for their child (an obviously much larger issue). So, when you find yourself and your partner engaged in a disagreement over something that seems little, look for the big underlying feelings and/or the big issue.
As much as the little things can mask the big things, it is also important to remember how much the little things can help. Meg and Charlie have been married for twelve years and have three young children. Charlie works on Wall Street and makes over $150,000 a year. Charlie feels the way he can show Meg how much he appreciates her is by buying her jewelry. Although Meg always appreciates the jewelry, it is not truly what she wants/needs and/or yearns for from him. What she is really yearning for is his emotional attention. She has complained for much of the twelve years that they are married that he doesn’t compliment her. All he needs to do is tell her how pretty/beautiful/attractive she looks and he could save himself a lot of money. Somehow it doesn’t feel like enough for him. Through therapy, Charlie was able to learn the best gift he could give his wife was what seemed to him, a ‘little’ one. To Meg, however, it was huge, and it didn’t cost him a cent.
When we don’t tell our partner how we feel about him or her on a regular basis, one of two scenarios is likely to play out. The first is that your partner assumes because you don’t say anything nice about him or her, you must not feel anything nice about him or her. A mere compliment a day, could keep the marital therapist away. Here are some other ‘little things’ you can do to almost instantly improve your relationship:
- Be patient and understanding. Think about all the possible solutions when problem solving.
- Have a date night. At least once a week, go out on a date–act as if you just recently met.
- Be responsible for you–your thoughts, your feelings, your behavior.
- Be honest.
- Express your love on a daily basis. Think of creative ways to say, “I love you”.
- Treat your partner like you would treat a friend.
Sometimes what appears to be a ‘little thing’ is really big to your partner. Think little!