Therapists Reveal What It Really Means When It Feels Like Your Partner Picks Fights for No Reason

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It’s easy to see and feel the damage wrought by a blow-out fight in a relationship. But the strain caused by a partner picking fights for no reason (you know, the little arguments over how you made the bed or looked at them in a funny way) can be more insidious. Sure, you might be able to resolve these minor disagreements as quickly as they started. But if the *real* reason why you're always fighting isn't addressed (whether at home or in couples therapy), this bickering can wear at the quality of your relationship over time, generating a baseline level of tension that puts you on edge in any interaction with your partner.

Experts In This Article

No matter how pointless these fights may feel, they often speak to some underlying issue within the person picking the fights or the relationship in question. “I’ve had whole sessions with couples about how someone loads the dishwasher,” says couples therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW. “But it’s not really about the dishwasher. It’s about holding each other in mind and accepting each other's influence.” The person picking the fight in this example, she says, might really be questioning their partner’s listening skills (Didn’t they hear me when I asked them to load the dishwasher this way?) or empathy (Don’t they care about how their actions affect me, or about making me happy?).

“When [constant fighting] is the climate in a relationship, the positive emotional currency is quickly drained.” —Tracy Ross, LCSW, couples therapist

Understanding your partner’s behavior and uncovering the real reason why they may be picking fights for (what seems like) no reason can help you avoid the rabbit hole of everything becoming a fight. “When this is the climate in a relationship, the positive emotional currency is quickly drained,” says Ross.

Below, you’ll find therapist insights on the motivations behind a person’s tendency to pick fights with a partner about random or unimportant things, as well as advice for mitigating this kind of relationship conflict.

5 reasons why your partner is picking fights for what feels like no reason

1. They’re craving attention

At the very least, picking fights for no reason in a relationship forces attention on the person picking them—which, according to therapist insights, may be all that your partner is seeking from you (albeit, in a not-so-great way). “If a person is feeling lonely, unseen, or as if they’re not a priority to their partner, they might pick a fight as a bid for connection,” says Ross.

As an example of what picking fights for attention may look like, consider this scenario: Your partner arrives home and asks how your day was, but you don’t look up from your phone to respond. “They may feel slighted, hurt, unimportant, or simply disappointed about not having that momentary connection, so when you then ask for a glass of water, their response may be to pick a fight,” says Ross—say, about why you can't get the water yourself.

Of course, the fight here isn’t actually about the glass of water; it’s about the attention that your partner is seeking from you but not receiving, says Ross. They’re just not capable of or choosing to communicate that desire more productively in the moment.

2. They fear or reject the idea of real intimacy

Some people may actually find it difficult to tolerate too much harmony, says Ross, as paradoxical as that may sound. After all, harmony often fosters a relationship dynamic of intimacy, closeness, and connection—with which many people are uncomfortable, says clinical psychologist Abby Medcalf, PhD, author of Be Happily Married.

Perhaps your partner would rather avoid intimacy than do the vulnerable work of opening up and trusting you with their feelings. In this case, “picking fights for no apparent reason is the perfect way to keep [you] at a distance and keep themselves ‘safe,’” says Dr. Medcalf.

It's also possible that your partner may be so afraid of getting their heart broken should they get too close to you, that they manufacture random relationship conflicts in order to prevent that. This is a common tendency in people with an insecure attachment style, says Ross: “[In these people], there is this underlying fear that their loved one’s attention and affection will be withdrawn at any moment. A coping mechanism is to pick a fight in order to beat them to the punch.”

In a similar realm, an insecurely attached partner may also feel unworthy of the kind of love you might be willing to provide—so, they end up self-sabotaging and picking fights for no reason in a relationship in order to prove themselves right, says Dr. Medcalf. “They pick fights, the other person rejects them, and they say to themselves, ‘I knew it! When things get a little tough, they’re not there for me,’” she says. “They’re testing their partner and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of being abandoned or rejected.”

3. They’re seeking the upper hand in the relationship

Speaking of self-sabotage... It’s also possible that a person picking fights for no reason is doing so as a way to ensure they’re in control of the relationship—at all (very real) costs.

“Many people are uncomfortable when things are going well,” says Dr. Medcalf. “It makes them feel out of control and anxious, as if they’re constantly ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop,’” she says. Whereas, when they’re fighting, they’re engaging the other person on a certain level, which makes them feel better because at least they’re seemingly in control of things, she says.

4. That’s how they learned to communicate as a child

In some cases, a person might not even realize that the little fights they’re constantly starting are fights, particularly if bickering was a familiar aspect of the relationship dynamics in their childhood home. “How you saw your parents or siblings relate to one another and to you is how you learned the ‘right way’ to communicate, listen, and understand yourself,” says Dr. Medcalf.

“How you saw your parents or siblings relate to one another and to you is how you learned the ‘right way’ to communicate, listen, and understand yourself.” —Abby Medcalf, PhD, clinical psychologist

If your partner grew up in an environment where adults in their vicinity were constantly fighting with each other, they might have learned that fighting is how you show others that you care, says Dr. Medcalf, which may be why they’re perpetuating these emotional patterns in your relationship.

5. Picking fights for no reason has become a habit of theirs

Like any negative relationship behavior, the more that a partner is picking fights for no reason, the easier it is for that to become the default emotional pattern, says Ross: “It’s easy to just inadvertently keep the negativity going if that is your ‘go-to’ habit.”

How to improve communication and trust in your relationship

First things first: When you’re dealing with someone who starts fights for no reason, it’s important to remember to be compassionate, no matter how difficult that may feel, says Dr. Medcalf, especially as you’re trying to understand your partner’s behavior and emotional patterns and triggers. Given the above, your fight-starting partner may very well be operating from a place of loneliness, fear, or insecurity—all of which are emotions deserving of your kindness.

You can de-escalate things and avoid communication issues by first determining the particular emotion that is driving them to spark conflict in the first place. Often, an argumentative person may subconsciously expect you to just figure out the problem by “reading their mind,” says Ross. (As in: He should know, I’ve told him this so many times, or Why doesn’t she just do it?)

To keep from falling into this trap, take a moment during the next seemingly meaningless conflict with your partner to ask about what’s really going on, says Dr. Medcalf. “Stop the conversation, say what you’re feeling, and then ask how they’re feeling. For example, you might say, ‘I’m feeling a lot of tension all of a sudden. How are you feeling right now?’” she suggests.

At first, your partner might deflect or fire back defensively, but you can guide them toward communicating actual emotions by continuing to share your own. “Remember that picking fights is largely unconscious,” says Dr. Medcalf. “They probably don’t realize that they’re doing it, but by asking them again to name a feeling, you’ll effectively bring them into the present moment.”

Once they hopefully state an emotion (e.g., "I feel upset that you aren’t taking my needs into account"), you can respond to and connect with that feeling, rather than just bickering about whatever surface-level thing started the argument in the first place. This way, the two of you can participate in a productive conversation, which creates a joint opportunity to take care of your relationship and build trust, says Ross.

In that framework, you’re also not laying the blame for the bickering on just your partner (for “starting it”), and they’re not laying the blame on just you (for “causing them to start it”). Instead, says Ross, you’re viewing it as a mutual bad habit that you have to work on together—at home or in couples therapy—in order to break.

Frequently Asked Questions About Picking Fights for No Reason

Why do I pick fights for no reason?

If *you're* the one picking fights with your partner for seemingly no reason, it's helpful to do some self-reflection along the lines of the therapist insights above. Perhaps you are actually seeking attention from a partner that you feel you don't get unless you're arguing; or maybe you're grappling with unresolved issues around intimacy and closeness—and fighting is the way you keep yourself from having to get vulnerable with a partner.

You may also be driven to pick fights in response to particular emotional triggers, or your communication style could be influenced by argumentative relationship dynamics you observed during your upbringing. Or perhaps you're just starting fights due to stress, exhaustion, or lack of sleep (all common reasons why people wind up fighting on vacation).

If, after some reflection, you still aren’t sure why you're picking fights with your partner (or are looking for signs someone is picking a fight with you, instead), it may be worth looking into couples therapy. This will give you and your partner a safe space to discuss communication issues (and teach you how to save a relationship from fighting that never ends).

What are some signs someone is purposely picking fights with you?

There are numerous signs someone is picking a fight with you, and if you spot them early, you may be able to de-escalate things before they get too heated. “Some signs can be that they are passive-aggressive (they say one thing and do another), attack your character, or ignore and stonewall you when you’re talking to them or are asking for something,” says psychologist and couples therapist Paulette Sherman, PsyD, author of Dating from the Inside Out, noting that these are all common triggers for why couples fight.

Elements of personality can also influence how someone may go about picking a fight with you—which is why you might also learn something by reading up on what to expect from different zodiac signs in a fight, some of which are better at conflict resolution than others.

What is a person who likes to argue called?

According to Dr. Sherman, a person who is always looking for a fight is called a “scrapper” or a “contrarian,” and there are many reasons why they may be so argumentative. “Sometimes this gives them [a sense of] control over situations,” she says. “They can seem like a bully, but they often have low self-esteem, and winning an argument can temporarily make them feel better about themselves, or powerful.” Or, again, they might pick fights because of emotional triggers or unresolved issues from past relationships. But it’s not always that deep; some individuals simply enjoy arguing for no reason at all.

What is the 3-day rule after an argument?

If you’ve never heard of the “three-day rule” after an argument, it says that people in a relationship should spend time away from each other for three days—we’re talkin’ no contact whatsoever—after things get heated in a fight. Dr. Sherman says that while this totally works for some couples (and if that’s you, go for it!), it can be nearly impossible for others. “This can seem extreme, for example, if you’re married, cohabitate, and have kids together,” she says.

If you need a quicker resolution, Dr. Sherman suggests opting for a 30-minute cool-off period apart, instead. “Psychologist John Gottman, PhD, a marital researcher, suggests taking 30 minutes when you’re flooded to lower your blood pressure and get back to baseline,” she says. “During this time, do a meditation, and don’t think about or discuss the fight.” (Or, you can go for some solo scream therapy—you do you.) “Then, you can come back to discuss it in a calm manner.”

If 30 minutes isn’t enough, Dr. Sherman says you can both agree to wait 24 hours to discuss the fight, so that there's enough space and time for solo reflection—but you also don’t need to avoid each other entirely during that time.

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