Expert Q&A: When Your Partner Annoys You
Q: How can I get my partner to stop doing things that annoy me?
A: No one is free from having annoying habits. Yes, that means you, too. We all have quirks, rituals and what I call "I wish I could send you to the moon once in a while."
Read these brief descriptions of the top behaviors that drive couples crazy. Feel freeAdd your own to the list.
1. Always late (men say it's usually the women)
2. Leave crumbled napkins and dirty plates (women say it's usually the men)
3. Leave a mess in the car (both sexes do this)
4. Leave toothpaste globs and other hygiene messes (women say it's usually the men)
5. Don't clean the toilet (women say it's usually the men)
6. Leave shoes and clothes around (women say men do this)
7. Have messy eating habits (women say men do this)
8. Have "junk drawers" (both do this)
9. Let the laundry pile up (both do this--but women tend to do the laundry eventually)
10. Let the dishes pile up in the sink or sit too long in the dishwasher without washing (women say men do this)
11. Forget to fill the car up with gas (men say women do this)
12. Speak negatively in a "joking style" about them in public (both do this).
Do these sound familiar? In fact, most of us can relate to at least one of these items. Whenever I address this topic in a workshop, everyone nods their heads and laughs. Yet, some people confessed that their unhappiness with these issues sparked intense and nasty fights.
Look again at this list. None of these things are, on the surface, worthy of starting World War III in a relationship, but they sure seem to have this power. Here are the top ways that these small but irritating behaviors can drive you mad.
1. Disrespected. Each partner says she or he feels unloved and disrespected when the partner makes one of the mistakes above.
2. Stone-walled. Sometimes, partners act out their anger by not attempting to curb their annoying habits. They fight back by not complying. There is an old saying that "when there are rocks in the marriage, there are rocks in the bed." But it might also be said that when there are stumbling blocks in tasks, there are stumbling blocks in the team.
3. Criticized and ridiculed. Public whipping, shackling and shaming went out with the Puritans. Speaking ill of your partner in front of others only prompts more annoying habits. You can't lecture someone into changing.
Taking the Right Action
So, what can you do to minimize your irritability and maximize your partner's cooperation? Here are some suggestions. Not all of them may work for you, but hopefully these ideas will help you come up with techniques that fit with your situation.
1. Divvy up some chores. Talk to your partner about which chores you mind the least doing. Chores are rarely fun, so start with the ones that you are most willing to do.
2. Teach. Both partners should know how to run basic household appliances such as the washer, dryer, dishwasher, sprinkler, toaster, oven and heat and air conditioning system. Develop what corporations call "depth" where more than one person knows how to perform key tasks. Teaching also applies to children. Set an example even for younger children. Assign duties. After all, you are all in this together.
3. Break chores into smaller units. Stop complaining and picking on each other. Come up with a plan where each one has a responsibility. For example, have one person wash the dishes and the other wash the pots and pans. Then trade off. Or, have one person bring down the laundry and load it into the machine and the other dry and fold.
4. Explain. Tell your partner why a behavior is so annoying. Maybe you came from a family where everything was a mess, and you swore you'd never live like that again. Or, you came from a perfectionist family environment and you never want to live like that again. Often, when someone understands your history, he or she is less likely to do the annoying behavior. Work together to devise a plan to change the behavior.
5. Thank. Always let your partner know you appreciate their cooperation. Thank them for picking up the dry cleaning, returning a phone call or any other task. Gratitude goes a long way.
6. Problem solve. If a problem is particularly important or difficult to alter, work on a plan together instead of just complaining and criticizing.
7. Expect less. Unfortunately, there are times we just can't seem to get a handle on our maddening behavior. Many behaviors are genetically-mediated and not easily modified. For example, snoring, burping or sneezing can be difficult to control. Still, see if you can find a solution. For example, if snoring is very disruptive, consult a physician or try using special pillows. Excessive burping might be related to acid reflux. Get medical help.
8. Get a perspective. Think about all the good qualities about your partner. Review why you fell in love and what makes your partner special.
9. Devleop a sense of humor. Laugh, lighten up and help each other.
10. Guerilla couple tactics. If all else fails, in strong and caring relationships, sometimes drastic measures can be taken. But be forewarned--these are reserved for the very happy, stable, healthy and mature relationships. These efforts work best when they are done with a sense of humor. For example, one of the women in my workshop rounded up all her husband's shoes that were strewn all over the house and put them in a big garbage bag in the garage. Every time her husband left his shoes in the middle of the floor, she would put them in the garage. When winter came, he got so tired of going to the cold garage, he finally became more aware of his bad habit. A husband was so fed up with his wife being more than half an hour late that he rang a huge bell when there was fifteen minutes left and five minutes. He only had to go without her one time to send the message!
Develop your own techniques, but never let your lack of cooperation substitute for expressing what's bothering you.
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