Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Doesn’t He Know That Makes Me Want to Scream?

Minor irritating marital habits loom larger when silenced.

angry dragon
While working on a book about very happy couples in long-term marriages (Loving in Flow), I decided to jot down a list of my own spouse’s annoying behaviors. Some I’d never mentioned to him because I knew they were embarrassingly trivial.

One reviewer at the time commented that my list was inadvertently funny. Nothing inadvertent about it. What’s especially “funny” is that this list is more than a decade old and it’s all still true.

Silly or not, such habits may have an insidious effect. Unless acknowledged and in some way dealt with, they can raise one or both partners’ personal alarm systems to high alert.

"You are so wonderful,” I said, lying back down and stretching my arm across his chest; “there’s no one in the world like this. I’d follow you everywhere if I could. I’ve never leave you alone even for a second. And you have no faults! I wish you had some so I could show you how little they mattered to me!" —Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, The Madness of a Seduced Woman

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SOME OF MY BELOVED'S HABITS:

• Takes several paper towels when one would do and doesn’t replace the empty roll.

• Uses the auto air conditioner in winter, sometimes while wearing a sweater.

• Leaves lights on everywhere.

• Leaves his bottles and cans out instead of placing them in the recycling bag below the sink.

• Leaves the stereo on all day, with nothing playing, when he’s in another room (his laptop, too).

• Throws his laundry into the hamper (when it makes it there at all) twisted, rolled in a ball, inside out, coins in pockets.

• Lets rose bush branches with thick thorns grow out over the front sidewalk.

• Leaves garden hoses kinked so they crack and have to be replaced too frequently.

• Leaves cutting tools on the front porch (tempting amateur thieves to cut our alarm wires).

• Takes my stapler from my desk and leaves it elsewhere, forgetting where he put it. 

• Pours buckets of dressing on dinners I make for him that would otherwise be healthful.

• Leaves cabinet doors and dresser drawers open, often with a sock’s tongue hanging out.

• Jiggles his glass full of ice cubes repeatedly (“It makes the drink cool faster.”)

• Rounds down when quoting prices, even when the number is $11.98.

• Mixes big and little spoons in the drawer when he occasionally puts silverware away.

• Keeps all email he’s ever received in his computer's in-box, and since he rarely responds to mail upon first encounter, items are often forgotten.

Nitpicky?  Sure. But perhaps you can relate to the irritation I feel toward at least a few of these habits. Maybe you have some of them yourself. None of us should presume we’re not as bothersome to others as they can be to us.

UNDER THE RAINBOW

Maybe it wasn’t charming after all, the way he bit into an apple, as if he were rabid, as if he were attacking it, going to get the better of it. Would she, for the long haul, be able to lovingly wash his stack of crusted dishes, and scrape the burned oatmeal, the burned noodles, the burned Spaghetti-Os off the bottom of his three pots? When she considered his failures and a few of his slovenly habits, she’d have to shake herself. She’d have to remember that it was his boyishness, his wide-ranging curiosity, and his hungry-dog appetite that had been appealing in the first place. —Jane Hamilton, Disobedience

When I told a friend of mine that I was compiling this list, she said, “But isn’t that opening a can of worms?”  But it’s precisely not that. Most of the above have merely vestigial emotional content for me, even as I was originally jotting them down. That is, except when my psychic immune system is depleted due to other stresses. Other couples have told me similar stories.

“Lighten up” is the typical marriage manual advice. However, and I’ll keep it brief here, getting used to “impossible” habits can be like habituating to a constant low ringing in your ears. Doable, but challenging. Once you explore such ongoing annoyances with your loved one, you may remove the emotional component. Once your conscious mind (and probably your subconscious too) realizes there is no real threat or danger from any of this trivial stuff, you can relax.

It works. Believe me.

[Adapted from Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, available online or direct from the author.]

Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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