“Honey, You’re Driving Me Nuts!”

Couples disagree and argue with each other.  Couples can get quite mad at each other. Research says that the big five of arguments are about money, sex, parenting, in laws, or housework. Had any such arguments?  But there is another level of issues that pull couples apart.  They are the little IRRITATIONS that just drive each other nuts.  Little irritations can cause big disconnections. Petty problems can subvert love surreptitiously. That’s the focus of this article.

Irritations exist in every couple’s relationship. It is not possible to live with another human being whose every quirk, habit, and preference aligns perfectly with yours. The challenge when these irritants  bother you is “figuring out how to negotiate and live with your partner’s irritants in a way that doesn’t alienate them and keeps the two of you connected”, according to psychiatrist John Jacobs.

Each person develops an individuality from genetically influenced temperaments, belief systems, and experiences growing up in the family of origin. Certain patterns of behavior can be deeply rooted and difficult to change.

Irritants can range from superfluous to substantial. Leaving clothes on the floor, eating habits, hygiene preferences, leaving the toilet seat up, snide comments, flirting, not remembering what was said, over-talking or interrupting, chewing gum, talking too much on the telephone, taste in clothes or furnishings, driving too fast or too slow, etc… Add your own.  I’m sure you have a few.

Most of the time a person is not willing, perhaps unable, to change an irritant.  Thus, the only option is for you to change how you think, feel, and react to it. What is the meaning or significance that you attach to the irritant? Do you make it bigger than big? An ice cube becomes and iceberg? Do you get paranoid and think your partner is deliberately trying to annoy you? Do you make the irritant intensely personal such that your partner doesn’t care about you and what you feel? Do you sometimes think that “if you really cared about me you would stop driving me crazy with these habitual irritants”.

Psychologist Michael Cunningham states, “the simple fact is that people engage in automatic behaviors that are habitual or self focused without taking the other person into account.”   Cunningham’s research found that people suppress their irritating behaviors early in the dating process but allow them to emerge once they’re in a committed relationship. Too often people bring their best behavior in the dating process and then after marriage let some things slide. Certainly this is disappointing, and irritating, to the partner who experiences such change in the other.

I encourage you, Respected Reader, to be aware of what irritants your partner perpetuates. If it seems significant to you, address it with your partner.  Perhaps s/he can change the behavior. Perhaps not. How you deal with it is what is most important.  If it truly is just an irritant find a way to live without it becoming a major issue to you that gets you all whacked out.  Perhaps, too, you can examine your own “irritants” that you might want to change. The connected relationship is more important than the irritant. If it is not, then you might well examine the relationship!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

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