Does your significant other have habits that drive you crazy? Do you find yourself nagging when you vowed you never would? Do you hate how you sound when you can’t let something small go? Here are some tips to help you along the sometimes bumpy way of lifetime partnership. What do you do when your partner irritates you?
What’s So Annoying Anyway?
The way my husband can get dressed in two seconds and be out the door was cute before I had front row seats to the version where his hair stood on end, and his teeth went unbrushed.
The way I was grumpy in the morning was funny until real life kicked in, and I didn’t want to talk to him first thing in the morning.
The way he wouldn’t wash the bottom of his feet was little-boy cute until his dirty foot prints were constantly left in the shower for me to clean.
The way I forget something nine times out of ten when I go to the store was cute until the 752nd time I asked him to go right back out for me.
What to Do?
1. Relax – Decide if the issue is worth bringing up or not. Is this something you can’t let go, or are you being unreasonable? Remember we all have quirks. But if you can’t let go of the issue, talk to your partner in a non-accusing way. Don’t bring up your concern when you’re angry. Look at the irritation through the other’s eyes, and hopefully you’ll trigger an empathetic response. It’s there, even it’s buried a little too deep.
As psychologist Michael Cunningham (University of Louisville) states, “It would be ideal to focus on the other person’s reaction all the time. But the simple fact is that people engage in automatic behaviors that are habitual or self-focused without taking the other person into account.”
2. Remember – Stop and think about what is going on besides the behavior. If your partner is being messier than usual, why is that? Are work demands out of control right now? Maybe it’s a time to show grace instead of demand your way. Marriage isn’t about 50-50. Sometimes it’s 25-75 or even 0-100. The balance shifts with the ups and downs of life. Take a moment to assess before attacking.
What’s more important than a balance of labor is respect, according to University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, “Respect means that someone takes my humanity into consideration and sees me as worthy in my own right of a positive and collaborative relationship. I’m understood as a human being worthy of occupying the same kind of space in the world as you.”
3. Reevaluate – Are you really upset with your partner, or are you unhappy with some aspect of your own life? Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the irritations of others than it is to deal with weaknesses in our own lives that need maintenance.
Or maybe you’ve set up unrealistic expectations for your partner. Dr. Matthew B. James says, “You’re talking and reacting to your spouse or partner as you project them to be, not who they really are — and you interpret everything he or she says or does based on your projection.” James suggests asking yourself questions such as, “What if my basic assumption about this is just plain wrong?”
4. Reset – Sometimes a change in thinking is enough to reset our relationship. There’s more to life than menial tasks and to-do lists. As author and psychologist Dr. Suzanne Phillips states, “Consider looking at one positive quality of yours and one positive quality of your partner’s each day no matter what else happens. You are laying the foundation for a different sense of self and a different sense of trust in your relationship.”
So, for me, all those little irritations can add up to frustration. Or I can remember how he runs back to the store when I forget again and how he brings me coffee every morning even when I’m grumpy.
Our idiosyncrasies — the things that haven’t changed even after 16 years — are what make us who we are. When I stop trying to change my husband, I find ways to laugh about his quirks, and he mine.
What do I do when my husband exasperates me? I remember how exasperating I can be, too. I give him grace because he gives it to me. I laugh instead of snark. I hug instead of walk away. I remember what he does do, instead of focusing on what he doesn’t. I look at him, and remember just how much I love him — dirty feet and all.
More About Relationships From Lori:
How We Fight Fair: The Only Three Rules We Need
Date Night: Necessary or Nonsense
5 Ways to Make the One You Love Smile Today