We all have annoying habits, which, curiously, we don’t find annoying in ourselves. But when they come from someone living with you, such habits can definitely get on your nerves.
The trouble begins when you enter a vicious cycle of resentment — when you're fed up with your partner's irritating habits, or you're tired of getting picked on for your own.
Nagging, disdain and contempt can all end relationships. That annoying habit may appear to be the source, but it’s not the habit that is the problem; it’s how you deal with it.
Here are some typical categories of annoying habits:
1. Bodily quirks
This includes non-clandestine nose picking, passing gas, burping, picking teeth and anytime when one releases things from orifices that no one else wants to smell, witness or be around.
Of course everyone must do so at times, but how about in the bathroom or other private place? Explain to your partner you are inclined to feel more sexually attracted to them when not subjected to foul odors and the like. If you did this in front of him (it usually is the guy, sorry) he would not really like it or find it sexually alluring. Request he do it in private.
2. Selective listening
You are trying to talk and he or she is tuned out, staring at the TV, computer or phone. Agree upon a benign code word (like "banana") for when you really would like full attention. It lets your partner know that paying attention now is important to you, which avoids the mystery of when to be fully attentive.
3. Being a slob
Dishes, clothes, shoes, mud — who, exactly, is supposed to clean that up? You think it’s you, but your partner may just be fine with the mess, planning to get to it later. A discussion of who will be cleaning the mess (and exactly how much later) will help.
Sometimes messiness is about relaxing in the moment; if so, ask for a time when he or she will return to the scene of the crime, and then make sure you do leave the things for the return. You will likely see fewer things strewn around.
4. Bad manners
Scratching his back with a fork, leaving the toilet seat up, rearranging private parts in public — things that never happened early on in the relationship are now a daily affair that makes you feel like you married a Neanderthal.
But for him (or her!), being able to relax and not feel like he married Emily Post is important. The solution lies somewhere in the middle, a relaxed state of getting to be yourself, with a dose of courtesy for your partner. Have a conversation about what constitutes reasonable manners to both of you. You may have different standards because you grew up in different homes. The things that are most egregious to the other are things you should step away and do in private. The “note reminder” technique helps for some. So a Post-It on the toilet for two weeks that says "Please put down the seat” can help to change a long-time habit.
5. Control freaks
Monopolizing the remote control, ruling what happens in the kitchen, always picking what movies you two watch. Relationships inevitably have some power struggles, and they can play out in the form of annoying habits that look innocent, but are really about being in control.
If the remote control is bugging you, ask yourself, where does that partner get to have some control? If the answer is nowhere, maybe you should let them have it here — after all, it's pretty innocuous. But if the remote is just one of many examples of robbing you of a say, then it’s time to discuss the inequity of power. Address what is underneath a seemingly meaningless habit to find the real meaning, which is about learning to share the power.
Constant nagging about annoying habits can actually destroy a marriage so pick your battles, you can’t win them all. Think about what really matters and why. Do not nag; instead, devise a system to address the specifics.
Overall, consider these steps for dealing with annoying habits:
Sometimes you don’t say what exactly annoys you, and the other person just finds you grumpy and critical. So be specific: “I think you are fab, but when I hear you biting your nails its grates on me. I know it’s a hard habit to stop, but could you try?”
You can’t remake your partner, so only ask about one thing. Pick your battle wisely.
Make a habit trade: You have bad habits too; we all do. So ask which habit he’d like you to quit and you can make a trade of it — each of you working on one thing for the other.
3. Emphasize the positive
You did not notice these habits when you first fell in love because love gives your partner “the halo effect." So each day for a week, write down three things you love about your partner, or admire in your partner, or think is hot about your partner, or why you fell in love. Putting on your rose-colored glasses will make those annoying habits seem far less annoying.
This story was originally published in April 2012.