My previous post looked at how to break the vicious cycle of chronic annoyance and restore peace in a relationship. In any intimate relationship, you will feel annoyed by your partner at times. What can do in the moment when you’re irritated, exasperated, or annoyed by his or her quirky ways?
Consider this scenario: In a letter to Dear Abby, a woman explained how she is embarrassed by her husband, who does yard work without his shirt on. She is sure that the neighborhood is scandalized by his protruding belly and graying chest hair, and asks whether he is being rude. Abby congenially suggested that he is doing nothing scandalous and should not be nagged about it. While this response was kind and reasonable, it didn’t address the real question: How is this woman supposed to deal with the fact that her husband’s behavior is annoying her?
Whether you’re annoyed by your partner’s appearance, health, behavior, habits, quirks, or lack of skill, sophistication, smarts, or charm, here are five tips for soothing the flames of indignation and lessening your own tendency to feel annoyed.
1. Replace judgment with humility.
When you feel yourself becoming judgmental, question your evaluation, and practice humility, by pondering the following: Does my partner really fall short? Does my opinion matter? Who died and made me king or queen of what’s right and good? Are my standards absolutely infallible? Is it my place to question my partner’s path, preferences, or quirks? It’s OK to have standards and a chosen path, but recognize that they are your standards and your path, and no one else is bound to abide by them, even your partner.
2. Look in the mirror.
When you’re annoyed, it often says more about you than about your partner. Perhaps your aggravation is a reflection of your own sensitivities, worries, or perfectionist tendencies. Perhaps your partner's behavior reminds you of your own detested shortcomings. Perhaps his or her habits are highlighting your own inability to stick to your standards or goals. When you feel annoyed, look in the mirror and turn your focus toward yourself. Alternatively, you can choose to examine and let go of unrealistic or unkind standards. This will set you free—and by extension, make it easier for you to let your partner off the hook.
3. Question your assumptions and don’t take it personally.
One of the most trying aspects of being in a relationship is worrying about others judging your partner, and by association, you. Question your assumption that other people might be offended. Recognize that just because you are annoyed by your partner’s behavior or appearance, it doesn’t mean that everyone else is. And even if they are, the truth is that they can easily shrug it off and get on with their lives. Rest assured, if others are being judgmental or annoyed, they are assessing your partner, not you. And if they judge you for your partner’s missteps? You’d do well to distance yourself from them.
4. See the quirks as enriching your partnership.
It’s inevitable that when two individuals blend their lives together, quirks become apparent and conflict results. But when you ban, resist, or resent such quirks, or conflicts, you only add to your distress. Instead, embrace them, and see dealing with quirks as an opportunity to practice better communication skills, reveal your true self, and get what you want. You can also learn how to let go of control and go with the flow. Although painful at times, these moments of vulnerability, if handled with care, can deepen your connection. Learning to deal with quirks and annoyances is a challenge but also leads to personal growth. (See the power of The Work.)
5. Use humor as the best medicine.
The path to humor can be found in expressing your greatest fear, taking imagined consequences to extremes, or shining a light on a truth about yourself. “You should handle money my way because I’m so brilliant at it; I have billions to my name, right?” Or “I hate how stubborn you are—because I want to be the King of Stubborn!” Or even, “If I drive you crazy, will you promise to take me with you?”
When you’re in the heat of the moment, it is hard to stop, take a deep breath, and bring your mind to one (or more) of these solutions. But it gets easier with practice. Even hours later, when you mull over what irritated you, practice implementing these approaches so that they become familiar to you. Gradually, you’ll be able to implement them earlier and more often.
The next post, the third and final in this series, looks at ways of being in your relationship to proactively ward off the chronic annoyances that plague so many couples. The magic of these strategies is that as you become more accepting and adoring of your partner, your partner also becomes more acceptable and adorable to you, quirks and all.