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Relationships

Why It's So Important to Know Just How Much a Partner Can Annoy You

Those bothersome traits are probably here to stay.

Key points

  • Even though we tend to focus on seeking good qualities in romantic partners, looking at our partners’ faults is smart.
  • Some annoyances are small and others not, but their impact is different depending on one's personality and individual pet peeves.
  • It makes sense to choose partners whose negative traits don’t bother us very much.
  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are not pains to endure, but signals to get help and get out.

We get a lot of advice about what traits to look for in a partner—honesty, good conflict management, chemistry, similarity. However, we don’t often flip the script and consider what negative traits we are willing to accept and accommodate.

A few years ago, I read a post about the wisdom of evaluating what types of pain or struggle you endure well. The author highlighted that even the best things in life (traveling, parenting, falling in love) come with costs and challenges. He argued that maybe we should focus a little less on what we want out of life and start asking, “What am I willing to struggle for?” When it comes to maintaining long-term romantic relationships, this advice is spot-on.

Consider How You Feel About Different Aggravations

Even though we tend to focus on seeking good qualities in romantic partners, research suggests that looking at our partners’ faults is smart and productive. We know that even the most wonderful people and partners have annoying traits, and they intensify over time. Maybe your partner is fun but a little unreliable. Maybe they shut down emotionally when they are angry or sad. Maybe they load the dishwasher in a way that makes you want to cry. We all have these traits and so do our partners.

Some of these annoyances are small and others bigger, but their impact is different depending on personality and individual pet peeves. For some people, being with someone who flour-bombs the kitchen because they like making bread is a nightmare. For others, homemade bread is worth the mess, it’s just not a big deal. For some people, being emotionally shut out for even a short time triggers panic and distress. Others can do their own thing while their partner works through their feelings and be ready and waiting when they are ready to re-engage.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

How we feel about and react to our partners’ shortcomings makes all the difference. John Gottman estimated that 70 percent of the conflicts we have with our partners are unsolvable. They are just differences in lifestyle, personality, or opinion that are unlikely to change. Spending too much time trying to “fix” or change those parts of our partners is not a wise investment of time.

Instead, it makes sense to choose partners whose negative traits don’t bother us very much. We can still see those traits as aggravating, but they don’t make us feel constantly exhausted or on edge. You can also channel your energy toward solving your “solvable” problems. With some positive dialogue, you can solve some of the things that bother you and have more energy for letting the rest go.

What You Should Never Accept

While research suggests some benefits of overlooking imperfections, it is important to recognize the things that we should not ignore, accept, or accommodate. Abuse—whether physical, sexual, or emotional abuse—is never okay. Someone who criticizes you, puts you down, humiliates you, controls your relationships or activities, or monitors your whereabouts are all signs of abuse. These are not pains to endure, but signals to get help and get out. If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, you can reach help here.

As you think about what you need and want in your relationships, considering the negative traits and small irritations you can manage is just as important as figuring out what you do want. By working to understand the costs or pains we endure best (and which ones are truly horrible for us) we can build relationships that sustain us rather than drain us.

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