The Real Housewives of New Jersey's Melissa and Joe Gorga recently shared what pet peeves drive them each nuts, and it was all so refreshingly relatable. The couple has been married for more than 13 years and, while we've found our own brilliantly timed solution to their bathroom critiques (Melissa should brush her teeth after Joe shaves), having pet peeves about your loved one is a very common, and normal, occurrence.
Even if you're just starting to date someone new, there's a good chance the person will eventually do something that you find particularly annoying, or vice versa — and there's an even better chance that you won't notice it until after the blindingly-in-love honeymoon period is over.
Personal Space spoke with a marriage and family therapist, Dr. Kathryn Smerling, to learn how she advises handling pet peeves in relationships. It's all about knowing when to address the issue seriously, when to bring it up casually, and when to just keep it to yourself.
Prioritize your grievances.
“There are mildly annoying pet peeves that you should be able to live with since they’re minor inconveniences, and then there are ones that you know are deal breakers,” Dr. Smerling says. The major issues have a noticeable impact on your life and the quality of the relationship, and these are OK to address early on; “that way you can avoid some awkward confrontations down the road.”
For pet peeves in new relationships, don’t list them all up front. You don’t want to give off the impression that your partner must be “perfect” or that you are looking for negatives.
Don't be alarmed.
"Garden variety annoyances that are fairly common are going to happen once you move past the honeymoon phase and are in the throes of a serious long-term commitment, Dr. Smerling explains. "When it comes to the little behaviors that make your partner human, try not to fixate on that.” If you find yourself obsessing, then maybe it’s time to consider that you might not really want to be in the relationship — "you might be using those kinds of pet peeves as a way to cover up what’s actually bothering you.”
Alex B. of New York told us that for the first eight months she was with her boyfriend, she never noticed that he chewed with his mouth open because she was so in love. Once the infatuation phase wore off, she started noticing it and it was driving her insane. She confronted him about it and he tried to stop, but most of the time he didn't even seem to realize he’s doing it. She even admitted that at times she has almost blurted, "I'M GOING TO BREAK UP WITH YOU IF YOU DON’T STOP!"
Recognize when a small issue becomes a bigger deal.
If a pet peeve comes up after you have been in the relationship for a while, but it hasn't been discussed, when should you bring it up? According to Dr. Smerling, it’s appropriate to raise it, “when it’s not just a small issue anymore — when it’s a bad, recurring habit, especially one that affects your personal space and health.” Pet peeves that aren't just minor annoyances (like mild snoring, chewing noises, loud throat cleaning, etc.), are a behavior that can be changed to help your partner, or if you feel like their habits are burdening you.
Not all the habits that affect your health or personal space are necessarily as big as confronting rude behavior in public or wanting a partner to quit smoking. Sometime, it is a thing that affects your personal space that can be easily addressed or a compromise can be reached. Audra E. of Florida told us that her husband used to leave the cap off their toothpaste after each use, and it drove her nuts when her toothpaste tube was always sticky. Eventually, she found a mutually satisfactory solution — they now use separate sinks and toothpastes.
Timing is everything.
If you want to confront a behavior, Dr. Smerling explains that “timing is everything.” If your partner is having a terrible day and they seem overwhelmed, that is not the right time to address an issue. She also suggests asking if they’ve ever noticed doing a particular behavior, since they may be oblivious to it. If you bring it up at the right moment in a tone that’s concerned rather than judgmental, it may be met with a lot less resistance.
Dr. Smerling adds that if you do confront your partner about something, try to soften the blow and make your partner feel good. She advises, "remember how much you love them and their good qualities.” Offering your partner positive feedback beforehand may help them become less defensive and more open to the conversation.
Know when to ask for outside help.
If it proves difficult communicating your needs or working through the issues effectively, but you don’t want to call it quits, seeing a therapist can be the way to change behaviors and improve the relationship. Dr. Smerling notes that only you can decide how long you are willing to tolerate being with someone that seems to be making you crazy. “A relationship should never be more pain than pleasure and should never feel like TOO much work.”
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