5 Things to Do When You Are So Annoyed With Your Partner
How to stop the vicious cycle and restore peace.
Posted Sep 21, 2016
Why is your partner the person who drives you the most insane? Is passionate annoyance the other side of passionate love?
Falling in love often involves idealization, so at first, nothing your partner does is bothersome. It’s easy to focus on each other’s strengths. You marvel at your compatibility. You’re captivated by every moment spent together. Getting to know each other is a thrill. During courtship, you are also eager to smooth over your differences. Kindness, patience, and forgiveness come easily.
But eventually, the bloom is off the rose. As you settle into some sort of commitment, whether it’s being together for now or for always, fantasies and carefree courtship fall by the wayside. You become accustomed to each other and get caught up in living your everyday lives. To a large extent, this changing focus is beneficial because it frees you to build a real partnership. Moving beyond the breathless stage of courtship allows you to tend to your responsibilities and get stuff done. You also get to relax and be your true selves, getting to know each other more deeply, and trusting that you can count on each other through thick and thin.
Unfortunately, as you settle into a life together, you may discover that your true selves can be quite annoying. What used to seem exciting, enchanting, or intriguing now drives you nuts—sloppy habits, irrational perspectives, unreasonable standards, unskilled communication, bad fashion choices. The kindness, patience, and forgiveness that once ran thick now run thin. Exasperation can seem to be around every corner, especially during stressful periods. And sadly, your collaborative relationship can become a combative one.
This path, though common and normal, is also painful. When left unchecked, it can develop into a vicious cycle in which feeling chronically exasperated and disappointed makes you more easily triggered by the next irritating event or situation.
Stopping this vicious cycle is a challenge, but you can do it. Here are five approaches that can help you put your partnership onto a better track, and restore its warmth and camaraderie:
1. Understand how feeling annoyed hurts your relationship.
Whenever you feel annoyed, even if you keep it to yourself, you are making a judgment about the other person. Judging is an alluring path because it makes you feel self-righteous and “better than” someone. But this lasts for only for a moment, after which you’re likely to feel drained, deflated, or distant from your partner. When judgment becomes a habit, it leads to contempt, which can destroy your partnership. To avoid this trap, when you feel exasperation begins to rise, remember that the long-term consequence of passing judgment is that it poisons your relationship by reducing your connection with your beloved. Instead, vow to take a nonjudgmental stance with your partner, such as: “That is my partner’s way and it’s not my place to question it." You can also see these moments as a way of understanding your partner more deeply and accepting your differences. Such as, “My partner’s focus is on other issues besides fashion," or "Things that bother me don't bother him/her. Fascinating!" You can also practice equanimity, such as "We are both doing the best we can at this time,” or “Live and let live.”
2. Take responsibility for the part you play in the dynamic.
Your feelings of annoyance are not the other person’s fault. Your assessment of how annoying they are is merely your personal judgment and your subjective perspective, but not necessarily absolute reality. What you judge as annoying may be considered charming or inconsequential in other couples—or cultures. And what you judge as annoying your friends may consider cute or charming. Own your feelings and see them as a reflection of your sensitivities. You are not the victim of your partner’s quirks; you’re the victim of your own. Blaming your partner for your discomfort or irritation is unfair and leads to unnecessary suffering for you both.
3. Instead of trying to improve your partner, focus on improving yourself.
It’s tempting to try to mold your partner to make them less annoying. You may even think, “Wouldn’t he benefit from my critiques and coaching?" "Doesn’t she want to behave (or look, or sound, or feel) better?" "I need him to be better!” But try turning this around: How would you feel about your partner thinking you should be better? How would you feel if your partner believed you’d benefit from his or her critiques and coaching? How would you respond to his or her evaluation? Most people would feel uncomfortable, infuriated, embarrassed, or ashamed. Is this the emotional landscape you’re trying to cultivate? Instead, be the change you want to see. And support each other by making a deal like this: “I’ll focus on my own self-improvement and personal growth while you focus on yours, and we won’t give suggestions unless invited to.”
4. Be aware that when you express annoyance, you’re being annoying.
“Do you have to talk so loudly at parties?” “Why can’t you chew with your mouth closed?” “You’re wearing that?” “You’re so bad at managing money.” “I hate how stubborn you are!” “Do you have to disagree with everything I say?” “You never listen to me!” When you nag, it’s annoying. This only adds to your problems by reinforcing the combative aspect of your relationship. Expressing your judgment and annoyance is akin to declaring war.
5. Remember: You are allies, not enemies.
After all, isn’t your alliance the foundation of your relationship? You’re on the same side, working for the same team, right? Keep this goal in sight at every turn. Make it a vow and renew it often. Make “we are allies” your new mantra.
These approaches can help you break the vicious cycle of chronic annoyance, and start to repair the damage done by chronic complaints. If your relationship is also suffering from additional stresses such as poor communication, emotional withdrawal, addiction, jealousy, or anger, you may require professional intervention as well. But whatever is paining you and whatever you’re working toward, if these solutions work for you, they can help you significantly improve your own sense of well-being in your relationship.
My next post looks specifically at what you can do in those moments when you’re annoyed by your partner’s quirky ways.
PLEASE NOTE: There is a huge difference between being annoyed by your partner and being abused by your partner. This article only examines what to do about feeling chronically annoyed-- not feeling chronically hurt, helpless, or bullied. For additional guidance and support, I recommend these two books and the authors' websites: