When we think of the misunderstandings and linguistic missteps that move perfectly good relationships to DEFCON 1 in short order, we usually think of the standard list: money, sex, never remembering to push the diverter in the shower down after using it. But a recent study of 70 newlywed heterosexual couples found that something as simple as a single sleepless night could cause couples to suddenly evaluate their entire relationship negatively.
This makes a lot of sense because even though conversations about finances and cleaning are about as sexy and fun as a prostate exam, it’s really all the little shit that sends couples into irrational fights, the kind that make you question everything, hate a motherfucker and realize you have no idea why you got together in the first place—until you make up.
As such, we polled friends and coworkers to find out some of the top stupid things that have caused their dumbest, most predictable fights:
Home Improvement Projects
“Any home improvement projects,” a former colleague, Rachel, tells me. “At all. Painting, assembling furniture, baby proofing.” A co-worker says he was once advised to “never hang wallpaper together.” I had a boyfriend who was otherwise chill and amiable, but for some reason, the second we had to figure out a new wall to slide the couch against, it was nuclear war. Sometimes the issue was that he wanted to clean first before rearranging, while I made piles of crap around the room and slid everything around to clean later. Or bewilderingly, he thought a side table should be cater-corner, and I burst into tears because it obviously meant he didn’t really “get” me. Sure, call me crazy, but anyone who likes cater-corner side tables is mentally unstable.
Some couples may thrive on the heat of a little old-fashioned competition, but others crumble mercilessly under the boot heel of elevated stakes, probably because it disrupts the sense of unity couples typically feel, that is, they’re on the same team in life. “Any competitive game,” an acquaintance named Larry tells me, causes animus. “We’re both over-competitive. Our biggest fight has been over a dart game.” Another friend, Laura, adds, “I almost cried once when Nathan and I were playing Boggle.” Another friend, Elizabeth, agrees: “We can never play Monopoly together. It gets way too intense.”
Picking Out a Movie
“Deciding which movie to watch!” a former colleague Jonathan tells me about what stirs up the most reliable fighting with his wife. It reasons. Early in a relationship two people probably try to take turns picking movies to keep the peace while you’re still being your best selves. Next thing you know, it’s two years later, a Wednesday night, and you’re being coerced into watching a two-hour documentary on sommeliers, when you’re in a Sense and Sensibility sort of mood. Why do you even love this crazy jerk?
She always hogs the wheel. He’s really into the superior shortcuts of Waze; you prefer winging it across the city. She would honk at a grandma crossing the road; you’d only reserve the horn for the most egregious criminal driving acts. Nothing says love like silently seething next to a backseat driver, or being flung about the cabin by a hard, shitty braker who has no idea they’re driving the vehicle like a bumper car. Get out while you can (when the car stops at the next red light).
Picking a Restaurant
What do you feel like eating tonight?
I don’t care, you decide.
We could do Italian?
No, we did that last week.
How about Thai?
No, see, the good Thai place is too far away. I’m hungry now.
What about that diner around the corner?
Ugh, it’s so overpriced.
I thought you said you didn’t care where we eat.
I don’t, I just don’t like any of these suggestions.
::both faces explode in unison::
Teasing Gone Amok
That thing where you’re teasing each other jokingly about something and it suddenly turns on a dime and one of you is pissed. “When I get a sick burn thrown my way—one of the reasons he’s so great is he actually does this to my face—I’ll decide it’s NOT funny and actually very mean and hurtful,” my friend Ashley admits. “This happens about five percent of the time? Will I laugh or will I cry? I bet it’s a real fun game for him.”
“Cooking steak,” a friend, Courtney, says. “I wish I was kidding.” It does sound stupid, but cooking is often the stuff of contrived dating shows for a reason: It tests your ability to work together and have fun as a team. In a list at The Guardian of reasons couples argue, “messing with the cooking” ranks in the top 10. “Let the cook do it their way,” they write. “Even if it’s very, very wrong.” Easier said than done when you’ve got a moron manning the grill, though.
Trying to make it through the maze of affordable housewares in the IKEA fun house of horrors — also known as the “relationship death trap” — has long been established as the number one cause of total destruction of otherwise sound relationships, due to its perfect storm of too much choice and decision fatigue. It’s such a threat to relationships that comedian Jeff Wyasksi devised an “IKEA Relationship Saving Station” in the Burbank, Calif., location to help couples cope. One suggestion involves yelling at a tiny horse instead of each other:
While clever, we all know nothing can save you from the misery vortex of shopping through a warehouse filled with Swedish design. But if you can somehow dodge the IKEA fight, don’t worry, just wait until you get home and have to build the furniture together.