What Do You Secretly Admire About Your Partner?

What attracts us often later repels us.

Posted Jun 05, 2018

Photographee eu/Shutterstock
Source: Photographee eu/Shutterstock

Our strengths and our weaknesses are often one and the same — they're just flip sides of each other. For example, if you're prone to pessimism (something that's potentially a weakness and annoying to others), you may also benefit greatly from always having a Plan B (a strength). 

In relationships, the things that irritate us about our romantic partner are often associated with underlying strengths that person has. This can play out in big and small ways. For example, I get frustrated with my spouse for not buying things when they're on sale. However, because she's not focused on discounts, she's also not prone to buying things we don't need.

In some respects, we're initially attracted to ways that our partners are different from us, but then we get irritated with those differences over time. (Click here for a research paper on this.)

You can help defuse relationship tension and boost your closeness if you recognize the strengths that accompany whatever drives you nuts about your partner. We frequently complain about what irritates us, but keep quiet about what we admire. Consider this post your prompt to understand and express the positive side of your partner's "annoying" qualities.

What do you like about your partner, but you've never (or rarely) told them?

To further illustrate the point, consider these examples.

  • It annoys you that your partner rarely makes time for just the two of you. They're always busy with friends or helping out neighbors or your adult children. On the flip side, you admire their generosity and the fact that other people come to them for help. Your spouse is popular because they're fun to spend time with.
  • Your partner is terrible with technology and is always asking you questions about how to find things on the computer or, phone, and TV. On the flip side, they're not obsessed with technology or glued to their phone the way many people are.
  • Your partner can be a narcissist, but this can have its advantages, too: Their big ideas are sometimes good ones, and their approach of being entitled and dogmatic tends to be successful when it comes to sorting out certain issues. They may also have high lifestyle expectations (e.g., they never want to stay in an ordinary hotel room, only a suite), and this is pretty fun.
  • My colleague Dr. Barbara Markway has written about how her husband being messy and disorganized annoys her, but that she also likes that he is more relaxed about most things than she is.
  • You think your partner is too permissive with your children, but you also have to admit that you love how patient and loving they are.
  • Your partner avoids discussions of emotionally difficult topics, and frequently stonewalls your attempts to engage on them, but they're also good at compartmentalizing issues and not letting everyday stress affect the rest of your life.
  • Your partner is very fussy about how things are done; for example, they want the sheets folded a particular way. However, they're also very thorough and neat in how they approach things.
  • Your partner is a bit boring. They're a creature of habit and haven't changed or evolved much since you first met. However, they're also very stable, and so you're able to make more changes and try new things yourself, because they bring such a strong element of stability to your shared life. 

What is it about your partner?

  • Think about what you used to like about your partner when you first got together, but no longer value much.
  • Practice thinking about other people's relationships. Sometimes it's easier to think of examples for other people than for yourself.
  • Make a list of what you find most annoying about your partner and consider what other people might say was positive about those qualities. Try reframing negative words. For instance, you can think of "boring" as the negative version of "stable."

If you have relationship tension, recognizing the interconnected nature of your partner's strengths and weaknesses can help defuse some of your frustration. In addition, your partner may be more willing to moderate their behavior if you acknowledge that their ways of doing things have upsides as well as downsides.

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