Six Ways to Stop Feeling Annoyed with Your Mate
Do more than save your relationship. Improve it!
Posted Mar 31, 2015
Few relationships come close to perfection. Your mate is going to do annoying things. You’ll do annoying things. By coping effectively with these annoyances, you may prevent serious relationship problems. You may enjoy your love relationship more. If this is something that you’d like to do, where do you start? Let’s begin with a quick look at annoyance. Then I’ll suggest six steps to get your bearing on positive change.
An Anatomy of Annoyance
Like the air, annoyances are everywhere. They are among the most common of stresses. Far from trivial, ongoing annoyances can lead to distress1. In some cases, annoyances can lead to down moods, anxiety, and a higher susceptibility to annoyance.
The list of what annoys people in relationships covers a lot of ground. People differ in what bothers them and in the degree of annoyance. Still, some things are common annoyances. Here are two examples. Your mate won’t let you finish a sentence before interrupting. Your mate shuffles your stuff around and you can’t find what you need when you are looking for it. Most reasonable people might agree that these events can be annoying.
By understanding a problem, you are on your way to solving it. Let’s start with a typical dictionary definition for annoyance: To annoy means to vex or to cause someone to feel irritated. When you are at the receiving end of annoying behavior, you are likely to feel irritated.
It’s easy to infer from this definition that your mate’s annoying behavior is intentional. If you believe your mate causes you to feel annoyed, changing your mate may be something you’d want to do. Therefore, you may try-and-try again to correct your mate2,3.
Here is how the try-and-try again method works. You start by asking your mate to stop doing something you find annoying. If that doesn’t work, you try again. You may adapt new strategies as you try to bring about the result you want. You may insist that your mate do what you want. You may threaten: “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll get drunk.” This process can escalate into a scream-fest where there are no winners.
Here is another example. Whenever you talk about the changes you want to see your mate make, your mate avoids the issue. You label this as an unfair avoidance tactic. You feel annoyed. You try again. This time, you exhibit more emotional intensity than before. Your mate may now respond more to your emotional intensity than to the issue.
If try and try again doesn’t solve the problem, you might try a new way that is based on tested psychological principles and methods. Let’s look at what you might do.
Annoyances are generally about what other people do4. Your romantic partner may fulfill many of your desires and at the same time have significant ability to frustrate some of your emotional interests5. Because of some conflicting interests and undesirable habits, you and your mate may emotionally stew over different annoyances that you have about each other's attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and other. One or both of you may have a short fuse about things that displease you. Annoyance may then distract from your romantic interests.
Can you and your mate take a different path to resolving annoyances that can help strengthen love and friendship? If you think you could, here is a six-step relationship-building program for you to try:
1. Accept that change is possible. Annoyances are manageable to one degree or another. So, test these waters. Intentionally make yourself the executive of how you think. You can better move forward by accepting this responsibility.
2. Listen to what you say to yourself. How you define a situation can increase or lessen your feelings of annoyance. For example, if you think that your partner is an unrepentant jerk, this will come out as a negative attitude. Put a check on this over-generalization. Here is one way you can do this. Instead of telling yourself that your mate is a jerk, rephrase the problem by taking responsibility for your share of the problem. For example, “I feel annoyed when my mate arrives late” is a radically different perspective from “my mate is a jerk.” You are still likely to feel frustrated about your partner’s lateness. At the same time, you've put yourself in a stronger emotional position to deal with the situation with a calmer attitude. You are more likely to influence positive change when you address your dislike for your partner's lateness without emotionally disparaging your partner.
3. Refuse to fall into the try-and-try again trap. By putting the brakes on try-and try again escalations, you can defuse a conflict before it gets out of hand. Although you may continue to feel annoyed about what you don’t like, you may make better decisions when you don’t feel emotionally rattled.
4. Look for mitigating factors6. Without defending yourself, or accusing your partner of annoying behaviors, consider your partner’s perspective. What might reinforce your partner’s actions? How would you like your partner to respond to you if you exhibited the same habit? By taking this empathic view, your partner is more likely to listen and respond in kind. Whether empathy changes anything is another matter. However, you are in a stronger position to make a deal that can benefit both of you.
5. Make deals and be ready to compromise. Can you calmly talk with your mate about the main thing that you do that annoys your mate? Are you willing to consider changes? Would this disclosure make it easier for your mate to talk about changing what most annoys you? That problem-focused approach will generally do both of you more good than repeating old patterns.
6. You can’t win them all. Some habits are challenging to break. Even with incentives attached to a change, it is common for people to slide back into over-practiced habits. Sometimes it takes many attempts before a change sticks. If your partner tends to be open to experience (willing to see things from different angles; willing to experiment), you may truthfully admit that you both need to work on making the deal work. Perhaps if you both make definable progress, you can agree to give each other a joint reward.
Step six is worth expanding.
Who Is In Control?
People who believe that they can control a situation tend to feel calmer than those who feel frustrated because they can't assert the control they want. For example, do you think you need to assert control to reduce your feelings of irritability over your partners annoying habits? The question is, what can you control? Sometimes you may miss the obvious.
Look at the Light Beyond Dark Places photo. There is a Sleeping Beauty in the photo. Can you see her? The Sleeping Beauty in the photo reminds us that we may not see some obvious things until we know where to look.
Once you see how you contribute to your own annoyances, you may see opportunities for asserting control that you had not seen before. For example, you can confidently assert control over what you do without insisting that others change for you. With this enlightened state of mind, you are more likely to get the changes that you want. If you don't, to the degree that you want, it won't be the end of the world. That understanding is a signpost on a path to personal power.
Annoyances Can Be More Than They Seem
Of course, annoyances are not all equal. If your mate is fast and loose with the truth, this is ordinarily more serious than wearing colors that you don’t like. If you are annoyed with your mate because of seriously harmful actions, and you can’t get through to your mate, you may have a problem that goes beyond annoyance.
If you go through moods, or have anxieties, you may be sensitive to annoyances that most would let slide. What do you do? Deal with your mood and anxieties with cognitive behavioral methods.
For information on overcoming anxiety, click on, The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.
1. Winerman, L. (2011). Annoying Science. Monitor on Psychology, 42(10); 34-36 [American Psychological Association (APA)].
2. Mikolic, J. M.; Parker, J. C. & Pruitt, D. G. (1997). Escalation in response to persistent annoyance: Groups versus individuals and gender effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 151-163.
3. Pruitt, D. G., Parker, J. C. & Mikolic, J. M. (1997). Escalation as a reaction to persistent annoyance. International Journal of Conflict Management, 8, 252-270.
4. Guilford, J. P. (1939). Likes, interests, and attitudes. General Psychology (5th printing), (pp. 322-341). Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, xii, 630 pp.
5. Fitness, J. (2015). Emotions in relationships. In Mikulincer, M. (Ed); Shaver, P. R. (Ed), Simpson, J. A. (Ed) & Dovidio, J. F. (Ed), (2015). APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology, 3: Interpersonal relations. (pp. 297-318). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xxix, 668 pp.
6. Johnson, T. E. & Rule, B. G. (1986). Mitigating circumstance information, censure, and aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 537-542.
(C) Dr. Bill Knaus. 2015. All rights reserved.