The Truth About Bickering

Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

Bickering. It’s something too many couples deal with daily. It may not be a full-blown argument, but rather a stream of criticism that leads to snide comments back and forth. Sometimes bickering leads to a constant sense — on the part of one or both partners — that they simply can’t do anything right.

Actually, bickering is “low-intensity chronic warfare,” says Psychotherapist and best-selling author Esther Perel. Worst of all, criticism produces exactly the opposite result of what a person is looking for. Paradoxically, if one partner wants the other’s behavior to change, the surest way not to get them to change is to criticize that behavior. Criticism “produces the actual opposite effect of what we seek when we are loved or love somebody — which is to feel good about ourselves,” says Perel in one of her popular YouTube videos.

What can you do to stop bickering? First, realize that “when you are in critical mode you are rarely reflecting,” says Perel. “You are constantly reacting. That’s a big difference. Reflection requires a little bit of time in between, a little bit of space, a moment to even think what it is what the other person meant before you automatically assume that you know and you are on automatic pilot. Generally when you are in critical mode your assumptions are negative. You do not assume that the other person had good intentions. You are always on the assumption that it was meant to be hurtful.”

Even more important, you have to understand what’s driving criticism in the first place. “It sits on top of a mountain of disappointments, of unmet needs, of unfulfilled longings. Behind a criticism there is often a wish,” says Perel. And getting to the heart of that wish is the key to ending the constant bickering, the constant criticism.

Watch Perel’s video for a deeper discussion of the wishes driving the criticism.