Annoyances in Marriage, Pt. 3 (and a free book!)

Managing Marital Irritations.cover

Glynn Wolfe might win the prize for history’s most irritable husband. According to his daughter in law, Vikki Wolfe, Glynn left his wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. But wait, there’s more. Wolfe divorced another wife for using his toothbrush. But wait, there’s still more. Wolfe is famous for being a wife collector. All counted, he married and divorced a total of 29 wives. Click here for his bizarre story. I’m not sure who needed counseling more, him or his 29 wives!

If you’ve asked your partner to quit eating sunflower seeds in bed or using your toothbrush and they refuse you can do like Wolfe did and file for divorce.

Or, you can become more tolerant of your partner’s irritating mannerisms. If you can’t change your partner, change yourself. Here are some tips.

1. List the things your partner does that irritate you.

2. Ask them to list the things you do that irritate them.

3. Compare lists and negotiate. “I’ll put down the toilet seat if you stay within our budget.”

4. Don’t give your partner negative labels. If you’re convinced your partner is a “self absorbed, cheating, immature, lying, slob” you’ll look for evidence to back up the label…and of course you’ll find it.

5. Re-examine the stories you tell yourself about your partner’s bad habits. Our interpretations play a bigger role in our frustrations than our partner’s behaviors. “As a man or woman thinks, so are they.” Here are some common stories that deserve challenging.

  • “My partner irritates me on purpose.” This might not be true. They could be mindless, automatic behaviors. Don’t you ever do things without thinking? Give grace and the benefit of the doubt.
  • “I take this personally!” If we treat their actions as a sign they don’t care about us, isn’t prioritizing us, or doesn’t love us, we’ve turned a benign action (like how to load a dishwasher) into a moral issue.
  • “If you really loved me you’d stop driving me crazy with all your irritating habits.” To which your partner could answer, “If you really loved me you’d let me do what I do without nagging.”
  • “They should know what I like. I don’t need to tell them.” Maybe it never occurred to your partner that it bothers you. They aren’t mind readers.
  • “My partner is one big irritation.” Is that their only redeeming trait? Won’t you miss that irritating habit once they’re gone? If the marriage is that dysfunctional there are bigger problems than crumbs on the counter or leaving wet towels on the floor.
  • “They don’t respect me.” Maybe they do respect you but just don’t have the same passion for when dishes get washed, bills get paid, or floors get vacuumed. They could just as easily say you don’t respect their way of doing things.
  • “If they don’t load the dishwasher right I’ll leave!” That’s why divorce attorneys call marriage a three ring circus–engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
  • “Reasoning hasn’t worked. Time to explode!” Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • “I’ll fight fire with fire! If they don’t take out the trash, I won’t talk!” Welcome to the walled off marriage. Hard to be close to someone you punish with silence.
  • “Any request my partner makes is an attempt to control me.” Really? Where did you learn that? From a demanding parent, grandparent, or ex?
  • “Differences are not allowed in this relationship!” Um, oneness does not mean sameness.

Click here Managing Marital Irritations.1 for a free book, Managing Marital Irritations. (This book contains Bible references).

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Annoyances in Marriage, Part 2

annoying-203x300 Two brave souls, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, did a scientific study of things that are annoying. They published their results in a book aptly titled, Annoying. They say a thing is annoying when it’s unpleasant, repetitious, and we don’t know when it’ll end. Think of hearing half a phone conversation, something they call halfalog (as opposed to dialog or monologue). It’s unpleasant because we don’t know what the other caller is saying, it’s repetitious because we hear a voice then silence then a voice then silence over and over, and every second the conversation continues past our tolerance level the more our agitation grows. The same goes for pesky mosquitoes, nails scraped on a black board, texting at the dinner table, snapping gum, knuckle cracking, pop-up ads, and someone clipping their nails in public. I read this book with fascination since I love doing two things: helping individuals deal with their partner’s annoying habits in healthy ways, and helping individuals eliminate their own annoying habits. With wit and humor the authors describe why spouses have a low tolerance for each other’s annoying behaviors but a high tolerance for the annoying behaviors of others–we can get away from others but we’re stuck with our spouses! Also, in public we know life is hard but at home we expect a comfortable environment with agreeable people! How do we protect ourselves from disillusionment and the annoyances we called in our last blog post, surprising reversals?

  1. Remember every good trait has its inherent down side; there can be too much of a good thing. Life wouldn’t be so difficult if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.
  2. Remember that a growing irritation might reflect our diminishing tolerance level more then our partner’s increasing irritations. Are they more irritating or are we more irritable?
  3. If our partner’s irritating mannerism occurs only occasionally, try to ignore it.
  4. Be mindful of our own irritating mannerisms and be willing to reduce their frequency. Reciprocating irritations escalate in a negative feedback loop. Decreasing irritations by one party can trigger decreasing irritations in the other.
  5. Seek equity. Make sure there is fairness in the amount of love each gives and gets in the relationship. If you get more love and your partner gets less, they’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Increase your deposits into their emotional love bank (be kind, generous, thoughtful) and decrease your withdrawals from their love bank (reduce the frequency of your irritating mannerisms). The old saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” has merit. A full love bank can stand a few withdrawals. An empty love bank can’t handle overdrafts.
  6. If you get less love in the relationship and your partner gets more, you’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Ask them to give more. If after several sincere and calm requests that doesn’t work, you’ve got some hard choices to make–separate bedrooms, separate vacations, separate lives?
  7. Accept your partner, irritations and all. Wanting a perfect spouse is like wanting see-saws that only to go up.
  8. Become boring. Some passive-aggressive spouses love to push buttons because they want revenge, drama, or entertainment. If you don’t want your partner to get your goat don’t let ’em know where it’s tied up. Wear an invisible Teflon coating. Become a duck and let the irritations roll right off. Be as impervious to their annoyances as a wind up alarm clock is in an electrical storm.

Next blog post: more tips and insights for Managing Marital Irritations (plus a free book).

When Cute Mannerisms Become Irritations

"I used to love it when you'd try to help me. Now it's just annoying."

“I used to love it when you’d try to fix me. Now it’s just annoying.”

It happens in every marriage. That cute mannerism you used to find so endearing while dating now drives you up the wall. That thing your partner did which was once attractive is now aggravating. A young couple gaga in love wholly embraces each other’s quirky habits, but fast forward a bunch of years and those quirky habits now drive each other bat guano crazy. Here are some examples I’ve collected over the years.

I used to love her helping heart. Now she’s off saving the world and I gotta cook dinner.

I used to love his pensive seriousness. Now I wish he’d open up and be more talkative.

I used to love his giving spirit. Now I wish he’d give to me and the kids and not all the neighbors.

I used to love her career accomplishments. Now I wish she had more time for family.

I used to love his relationship with his mother. Now I wish he’d stop calling her 4 times a day.

I used to love her laid back attitude. Now I’m annoyed she’s late for everything.

I used to love her spontaneity. Now I think she’s ADD.

I used to love his black and white thinking. Now I wish he wasn’t so stubborn.

I used to love her innocence. Now I wish she wasn’t so gullible.

I used to love his cool demeanor. Now he won’t talk to me.

I used to love his hard working attitude. Now he’s a workaholic and I never see him.

I used to love my wife’s body. Now all she does is work out.

I used to love his humor. Now he sounds like an immature dork.

I used to love her jokes. Now she never takes anything seriously.

I used to love his attention. Now I feel controlled.

I used to love it that he listened to me. Now he gets irked if I talk to anyone else.

I used to love her compliance. Now she seems like a doormat.

I used to love him letting me decide things. Now he makes me decide everything.

I used to love her as the life of the party. Now she never shuts up.

I used to love his risk taking. Now he seems utterly irresponsible.

I used to love it that she’s smokin’ hot. Now I’m angry guys stare at her.

These annoyances are tolerable in small doses. In large doses we get annoyed! Why do we get turned off by the very thing that attracted us to our mates in the first place? Because disillusionment sets in. What initially brought a big pay off of joy, entertainment, and warm fuzzies, eventually fails to deliver. We get acclimated, we get numb, we take our partners for granted. Like a drug addict who needs bigger and bigger hits, couples, if they’re not careful, need bigger and bigger relational pay offs.

Next blog: what to do about marital irritations.

Challenging Negative Thoughts When Things Go Bad

blackboardHere’s a handy truth to keep in mind the next time things don’t end well. The end of an experience does not define the beginning and middle of an experience.
 
If on day fourteen of a two week vacation we lose our luggage, it rains cats and dogs, and we run into grouchy people it doesn’t mean the whole vacation was crummy. And yet we’re prone to think the whole vacation was a disaster even if the first thirteen days were great. 
 
If we enjoy 40 minutes of musical bliss listening to a vinyl record but the last minute has a scratch on it, we tend to think, “The whole record was ruinied!” conveniently overlooking the first 39 minutes of pure enjoyment.
 
If a pregnancy goes well but the delivery is hard mommies tend to treat the whole pregnancy as an ordeal (so I hear).
 
If the last years of a long and fruitful life end in a depressing nursing home it doesn’t mean that person’s whole life was depressing. Yet we are prone to equate how a life ends with how it was lived in the beginning and middle.
 
If a 400 page novel engages, inspires, entertains, and delights but has a crummy ending we tend to forget the 399 pages of enjoyment.
 
If a long term marriage ends in a painful divorce people tend to think their whole marriage was bad, forgetting the fun times in the beginning and middle.
 
Our tendency to let a bad ending color the beginning and middle of a good experience seems unavoidable, doesn’t it? 
 
But try it out. See if you can catch yourself letting a bad end define the whole thing. 
  • Don’t let a bad dessert erase the memory of a great dinner.
  • Don’t let your teenager’s surliness erase the good memories of that first step, first word, first day of school.
  • Don’t let a repair bill when something breaks erase all the years that stove, car, tent, bike, computer, or lawnmower worked great.
It will be hard at first but by learning to resist letting an unpleasant end of an experience define the whole experience we’ll have happier memories, less discouragement, and greater control over a mind that’s prone to negativity. 
 

Thesaurus Therapy: Confuse These Words At Your Own Risk

Collegiate_ThesaurusHere’s a list of important words with very different meanings. We fail to grasp these distinctions to our peril. 

Cause vs. Contribution. A partner or family member may contribute to our irritation, anger, frustration, or unhappiness, but they do not cause it. There’s a fine line between what others do and how it affects us.  It’s what goes on inside our minds, not what goes on “out there,” that determines how annoying or troublesome another’s behavior feels. This is good news because we can control our inner world more easily than controlling others. Application: replace the comment, “You make me so mad,” with, “The story I tell myself about what you did makes me so mad.”

Criticism vs. Complaint. As a family conflict mediator I encourage complaining. It’s a healthy way to make our wishes known, initiate helpful dialog, and foster positive change. But there’s a world of difference between saying, “I feel bugged when you leave your dirty socks on the floor,” and “You are a slob and a sorry excuse for a human being.” One is a complaint, the other is a criticism. Application: resist the temptation to attack your partner; attack the problem instead.

Reacting vs. Responding. If you throw a rock into a pond you’ll see waves. That’s a response. If you throw a rock into a pond and see see a tsunami, that’s a reaction. Too often we react like a tsunami when a family member bugs us. Those reactions are impulsive, thoughtless, and explosive.  A response involves taking a deep breath, becoming curious about what the other person is thinking, and giving a soft reply. Application: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Oneness vs. Sameness. When “two become one” it doesn’t mean “two become the same.” Expecting our partners to think, act, talk, eat, and relax just like us is to overlook the fact that we are one (shared bed, kids, budget, goals) but not the same (emotionally enmeshed, codependent, and blurred boundaries). Marriage is not the melting of a blue and yellow crayon into a green blob. We are still blue and yellow. Application:  give your partner and yourself permission to be different.  See The Green Marriage

Assertiveness vs. Confrontation. The conflict avoidant person will cower at both of these words. But if the thought of being a perpetually passive, compliant, floor mat doesn’t appeal to us we should embrace assertiveness (the ability to say what we want and not want, ask questions, make our needs known) and eliminate confrontations (pulling the pin on a hand grenade and throwing it at our partner). Application: speak the truth in love. 

 

Have You Ever Been Annoyed By a Family Member?

Built into the human body is an aversion to irritation. Scraping a fingernail on a black board makes our ears hurt, rancid tastes make us gag, pop up ads offend us, drippy faucets unnerve us, advertising jingles become ear worms and make us crazy, and pesky mosquitoes can drive us bonkers.

There are four ways to cope physical annoyances. For example, to minimize the irritation we feel when cutting onions we can either:

tupperwareQuarantine the onion by putting it in Tupperware

Insulate our eyes by putting on a gas mask

girl-crying_l

Let nature take its course and flush out irritating onion odors with cleansing tears

Stories-at-Work

Re-frame the irritation by telling ourselves a new story.

“This is the price I pay for adding flavor to omelets.”

“My tears may mean I’m using too many onions in this dish.”

“Onions boost my acting career by giving me authentic tears for my stage performance.”

“Onion odors are natural, unavoidable, and an irreversible part of the universe.”

As a family conflict mediator it’s my privilege to coach couples, parents, and teens on ways to reduce family irritations. Just as there are four ways to cope with physical irritations, there are four ways to cope with psychological, relational, and family irritations.

Quarantine the irritating family member—put ‘em in a time out.

Insulate yourself by leaving the room (better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome family member, Proverbs 21:9).

Let nature take its course and process your irritation with cleansing tears.

Re-frame the irritation by telling yourself a new story.

“Irritation is the price I pay for living under the same roof with my family.”

“Irritations motivate me to develop patience, kindness, and tolerance.”

“My irritability alerts me to the possibility that I may be irritating to others.”

“Relationship irritations are natural, unavoidable, and an irreversible part of the universe.”

Please do not retaliate by returning irritation for irritation. This only causes things to escalate. Unless of course you’d like to come in for family counseling. I do have openings.