Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

How Well Do You Know Your Partnership’s Buzz Kills?

And how well should you know them?

“I love him to pieces, but every time he laughs like that it takes me a few minutes to warm back up to him.”

“She’s my sweetie pie, but lord, there’s this one face she makes that sours the vibes. I have to go to another room to recover.”

“He’s a peach except when he gets uptight and starts bossing me around.  I run for cover, and sometimes don’t recover by the time he loosens up.

“She hates when I nibble her neck.  Just hates it!”

“He’s very sensuous in bed, but doesn’t like holding hands in public. He’ll snarl at me. Weird but true.”

“Truth be told, I have trouble with that beer belly. Makes me want to reach for my beer goggles.”

We call them pet peeves.  Why pet?  It implies that we nurture these annoyances, keeping them alive. Some partners do, I suppose.

But no, pet is short for petty. They’re too small to be deal breakers, but we can’t help but they cause instant recoil, a step back; a moment to recover.   They take their toll.

Is it good to know your partnership’s buzz killers, to be able to inventory what bugs you about your partner and your partner about you?

Yes and no.

Obviously, to name them is to tame them.  If you know your spouse hates that laugh and you can keep from doing it, it’s best to keep it in mind.

But what if you can’t help it?  Now that you’re aging, you’re gaining weight despite exercise and diet, and you know it’s a turnoff to your spouse.  Best to keep it mind?  Probably not.  Ignore it and hopefully your spouse will too.

The serenity prayer speaks to when to ignore and when to attend to buzz killers:

The serenity to accept what you can’t change, the courage to change what you can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.  

If you can change the laugh, then attending to how it bugs your partner will motivate you to change it. If you can’t change the weight, then ignore how it bugs your partner and hope that your partner just accepts it.

And conversely,  if you think your spouse can change the laugh, yes inventory it. And if you don’t think the weight’s coming off best ignore it.

More than people notice, the serenity prayer comes in mirrored pairs.  Your courage to change something your partner does, is by definition paired with your serenity to accept your standards as not worth trying to change: “Sorry, I wish I could change my standards to where I tolerate your laugh, but I accept that I just can’t. So would you stop with the cackling?”

The serenity to accept your partner’s buzz kill behavior is the courage to change your standards until the behavior becomes acceptable.  “I accept that my partner can’t lose weight, so I’m going to work to try to change my attitude about it.” 

Ideally, both partners err on the side of generosity, not reacting to each other’s buzz kill behaviors, and trying as hard as possible to avoid imposing buzz kill behaviors on each other.

In practice, there will be negotiation over who can change the buzz kill behavior and who can become more accepting of them.

And the biggest Buzz killers are the items in your “still to be negotiated” inbox, the issues about which you have yet to figure out whether you’ll accommodate your partner or your partner will accommodate you. 

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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