Why Do We Fight Over Dumb Stuff?

I watched the animated Pixar movie Up again the other night. My favorite part is when the translator gadget turns the dogs’ barks into English. “Squirrel!”

Wouldn’t it be great if your partner came with a universal translator so you could know what they really mean when they say those infuriating things? As a couples counselor I work as a translator every day. I interpret couples’ words into the language of attachment theory. You can check out the translations below.

Attachment theory is a big deal in psychology. Forty years of research has taught us that we have a built-in, wired need to be attached to others. If an infant isn’t attached to his or her caregivers, that infant is at high risk for death. Even if that infants gets plenty of food and medicine. That’s just pure science.

What is the primary concern of a toddler? It’s, “Who will take care of me? I don’t even know how to open the refrigerator.” For a toddler, being cared for and connected to others is a life or death matter.

You made it through childhood because someone cared for you.  

These core attachment concerns arise in all adult love relationships. That’s one reason our relationships feel so important, and so difficult.

Here’s a handy human translator you can use at home.

When your partner shouts:

“You didn’t text me that you’d be late!”

The translation is:

“I feel abandoned and alone.”

When your partner yells:

“Damn it, you didn’t pick up the dry cleaning like I told you.”

Your partner is really expressing:

“You don’t care about me since you didn’t listen to me.”

And when your partner says:

“I’m glad you came over tonight.”

The translation is:

“It means so much to feel connected to you.”

Am I kidding? Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little to make a point. But it’s true that you and your partner are constantly asking the following questions, silently and unconsciously:

Is he safe?

Does she love me as much as I love her?

Will he stay with me?

These are the central preoccupations of toddlers, and of grown-up people.  

So What Do We Do With This Attachment Theory Stuff?

What if you started looking at your relationship through the lens of attachment theory? When you do that you soften the rough edges in your relationships.

When he gives you major attitude about being late perhaps you first think “Calm down, enter expletive here!” Instead, what if you stopped and realized, “Oh he feels like I don’t really love him.” If you thought that you would feel less attacked. You’d probably feel some empathy for his feeling of abandonment. 

You still wouldn’t like the attitude but you’d be less likely to escalate the fight by attacking him. And because you weren’t in attack mode he probably wouldn’t attack back. He would settle down sooner. 

And imagine if sometimes you even soothed his attachment pain with a statement like “I’m sorry I’m so late.” He might even melt immediately.

There’s a baby inside your adult partner and also one inside of you. When we start to realize that, our partners get less threatening and their messy parts less frustrating.  


We are not empathy machines. We can’t empathize all the time with our partner’s hurt feelings. However, we can start to resolve conflicts more quickly by talking about what is going on between us from the attachment perspective.

The conversation gets so much deeper, and so much more interesting, when we start to talk about how we feel dropped emotionally by our partner, rather than staying exclusively focused on the details of the crime of the dirty dishes in the sink.


Want to read more?  Check out our articles on gay relationship advice:

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For more information about how we help LGBTQ individuals and couples please visit our website at www.thegaytherapycenter.com. We offer services in our San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles offices or by Skype or phone worldwide.  


The information on this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and no psychotherapist-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. The suggestions offered in this blog are just one perspective of many approaches to dealing with problems and should not be your only source when making life decisions. This website is not intended to replace professional mental health treatment.