Are you sick to death of all those annoying, embarrassing little idiosyncrasies your mate has a habit of displaying in public and in private?
When ever someone is doing something that we find irritating, we have a tendency to automatically feel it’s their problem and they need to just get over themselves and make a change. That isn’t always true. The first step in addressing this issue is to determine whose problem it really is. In other words, does your mate’s behavior bother him or her as much as it bothers you? Why is the habit annoying you?
Annoying habits seem to fall into three categories. The first category is that of simple differences. The second, are those unconscious behaviors that impinge upon another’s rights or create pain in some way. And the last are those habits that result from conscious and uncaring behaviors that would seem deliberate.
Let’s say you are with a partner that eats a meal as if it is his last meal on earth and finishes each repast with a resounding burp that shatters the air and tilts the pictures on your wall. One could no doubt find that annoying, especially if you’re the one straightening out the pictures after every meal. However, if it doesn’t bother your partner, you need to ask yourself why it bothers you and explore whether change is necessary. Seriously, most of us wouldn’t get to a second date with someone who was as lacking in the social graces as the person in this exaggerated example. However, it is also true that infractions of a lesser degree can become equally as annoying to partners in long-term relationships. The first step is to understand why you are becoming annoyed. Then it’s necessary to communicate about the issue in a non-shaming and non-defensive way. A simple question such as, “Are you aware that you do this and does it matter to you,” could start a dialog. By talking about the issue you can both begin to explore the ramifications of the behavior for each of you openly.
Let’s start by discussing the first category. Some irritating differences are simply that, just differences. They don’t need to be changed, they just need to be accepted as individual ways of being in the world. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is addicted to sameness. After all, we think, if you and I aren’t the same then that must mean there is something wrong with me. If it’s not me, then something’s definitely wrong with you. We have the illusion there is great safety in sameness. If we do things the same there is less chance that your behavior will reflect negatively upon me. We want those we love to make a good impression, most of the time whether we admit it or not, because it makes us look good. Sometimes, we want our partners to think and act as we do because we feel abandoned by them if they have a different way and we tend to interrupt the difference as separation.
If you both determine the behavior is simply a difference then you can work together to find a solution. If the behavior still bothers you then maybe it’s time, independent of your partner, to look at your own issues about accepting diversity, about boundaries and your need for your partner to be like you. You also want to look at your own sense of self-esteem and sense of independence. The more self-esteem you have the easier it will be to allow for difference and understand that people will see you as a separate person and won’t judge you based upon your partner’s behavior. If they do, it’s their problem. If your partner’s behavior bothers your friends, encourage them to deal directly with your partner on the issue.
If the behavior that is bothering you does have a negative impact on you in some way, you can then express your concern to your partner and negotiate an honoring way to deal with it. You may find the behavior is unconscious and not intended to hurt you. For instance, if your partner was brought up in a household with ten other siblings and had to interrupt in order to get a word in edge-wise, perhaps she still interrupts you and others in social gatherings. Once you bring to her attention that this hurts your feelings or comes off as rude behavior that is unintentional, you can decide on some sort of signal between you that will let her know she needs to be more aware when you are out in public. Most of us don’t want to be rude and a gentle reminder might be well received. I once had a friend who raised her voice to a shattering pitch to get her point across. We agreed that if she did that I would simply put my hand over my chest to remind her to bring her voice down in volume. She was glad to have the reminder as she had been told many times people often felt over powered by her. Most irritating behaviors fall into this “unconscious” category. When two people are growing and aware, you will often find your partner amenable to your help in alleviating the behavior once it is brought to his or her attention.
The last category is that of intentional hurtful behavior. Very few people truly want to be hurtful, but if this is the case then it’s up to you to set firm boundaries about if and how you will participate. I once worked with a couple who fought constantly over the husband’s driving habits. The wife felt unsafe in the car with their child because his temper resulted in reckless driving when he got angry. I advised her to simply take her own car and refuse to drive with him when he was rageful. She did this and he soon changed his behavior.
Differences can add great fun and challenge to a relationship that might otherwise become stagnant if both people were the exactly same. Differences are also a great tool for learning about oneself and your relationship. Deep breaths and a willingness to look deeper will often resolve the issues.
© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2013