When I Say “Nothing”

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You are quietly sitting in your living room, your partner walks in and asks, “What’s wrong?” You say, “Nothing,” and somehow a screaming, slamming, stomping fight ensues.

There’s generally more to it than that, but this sort of thing happened enough in my first year of marriage that I made Mr.B a chart called “What to do when I say, ‘Nothing'” and taped it to his computer desk (at home, putting it up at work would have been a total a-hole move on my part). I don’t think it really worked, I’m pretty sure he lost it within a few weeks, but it helped me to clarify what was really going on behind the scenes when I said “nothing” and that, in turn, helped me talk to him about it more clearly. And I do believe that, since he had my cheat sheet buried somewhere in his subconscious, it eventually helped him listen to what I was saying about it. We rarely have the “nothing” fight anymore, and if we do it usually has more to do with outside stressors than bad communication on our part.

Some recent conversations have made me think that other people might find the “nothing” chart useful. It’s probably most effective when you make your own, but I’m happy to share mine to get you started. The first thing you need to do is figure out:

What does it mean?

Typically, there are three possibilities to what I’m thinking when I say “nothing”:

  1. I’m upset about something that has nothing to do with you, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
  2. I’m pissed at you, but I don’t have the energy to get into a fight right now.
  3. There’s really nothing wrong, I’m just spacing out in your general direction.*

Your response.

At this juncture, you can badger me into telling you what’s bothering me – “No, something’s wrong. I can tell something is wrong. Tell me what’s wrong.” – until I explode and shout, “I MARRIED A GIANT BAG OF DICKS! THAT’S WHAT’S WRONG!” Or, and this is my preferred response, you could say, “It looks like you are upset about something. If you feel like talking about it, just let me know.” Response #2 will earn you Super Awesome Partner Points. Response #1 will lead to fighting, resentment, and gnashing of teeth. Which sounds better to you?

What happens next?

Assuming you chose Option #2 above, and we aren’t already in the middle of a flaming row, here’s what you can likely expect:

  1. I’m upset about something unrelated to you: I’ll probably tell you all about it sometime in the next half-hour.
  2. I’m pissed at you: If I can find a way to tell you what I’m pissed about gently, so as not to start a fight, I’ll tell you what’s wrong. If I can’t, you’re just going to have to suck it up, because I probably won’t be telling you what’s wrong today.
  3. There’s really nothing wrong: I’ll reiterate that there’s nothing wrong, I’m just trying to figure something out.

Ask yourself this:

What you, as the asker, have to ask yourself is, “Why am I asking?” If you want to know what’s bothering your partner because you genuinely want to help, then stick with response #2. You have shown that you care enough to ask, now give your partner some space to figure out how to say what is on their mind. If you are asking because you are a nosey bugger who can’t stand other people having “secrets,” then prepare yourself for a lot of yelling, possibly with questions like, “CAN’T I AT LEAST HAVE SOME PRIVACY IN MY OWN HEAD?”

For those of you who are more visual, I have made this handy flowchart for quick reference:


*This happens more, now that I am writing on a regular basis. Apparently I get frowny when I am having trouble articulating something.

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

25 replies on “When I Say “Nothing””

Mr. Marginally learned a long time ago that when I say “nothing”, I always always ALWAYS mean nothing, and that continued questioning will turn that tiny nothing into a big ole something. Never understood the concept of saying anything other than exactly what you mean.

Additionally…I <3 flow charts.

It’s one of the most ridiculous things to fight about ever. “I wasn’t mad when you asked me five minutes ago, but you kept bugging me and now I’m pissed. Let’s shout for a while.” I’m surprised it doesn’t show up on sitcoms more often.

I don’t so much get the question “What’s wrong?” from the mister, but more of a statement like, “You seem forlorn.”

(Yes, we both use words like ‘forlorn,’ which might be part of the reason why we work.)

But I’m usually the guilty one when it comes to, “Really? You don’t seem okay? Are you sure? Areyousureareyouareyouareyou?”

I do love a good flow chart though.

“I MARRIED A BIG BAG OF DICKS!” might be the best way to kick off a fight ever. I might try to use this flow chart with Mr. Dormouse because I am the passive aggressive one, and he is the the type to throw everything out on the table and get it over with-the sooner, the better.

Full disclosure: I don’t think I’ve ever said that one out loud, just in my head. I usually try to keep a clean fight, so I reserve name-calling for extreme circumstances. I have, however, said “Well I’m pissed NOW because you’re being an ass!” at the start of a stupid fight.

I’m the queen of the “nothing” response, partially because I hate confrontation and partially because my ability to articulate seems to disappear when I’m upset. I usually need a little time by myself to figure things out and then I can tell future mister why I’m upset. It took some work to be able to talk about upsetting feelings with a partner, and I’m lucky that he learned quickly to not keep pressing when I say nothing.

Stop being in my head Sara! I talk and talk and talk, so when I go quiet it is a sure sign that something is eating at me. I’m actually in this situation now, where something happened last night, and it’s a #2 type situation (I’m pissed at you but can’t quite articulate why yet). I just went to sleep, woke up still in zombie quiet state, and am trying to deal with it. Mr Cesy hasn’t asked what’s wrong, but he has indicated that my mood has affected his and we need to talk it through when he’s home from work. We’re just not sure how to sort the issue out though. I think it might just be one where we have a snuggle on the couch and feel a bit better and it will pass. Not sure it’s one we can communicate through, but one we have to make sure just doesn’t happen again.

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