One Small Thing

How to get your spouse to stop doing that thing that really annoys you

You wake up early in the morning to start another long day, and that’s when you spot it: laundry piled up in one corner or perhaps a collection of “soaking” dishes in the sink. That little habit that your partner can’t seem to shake — and that drives you absolutely nuts.

So how do you fix it? Presumably, you’ve already tried talking to your spouse about the issue. But do a quick gut check on how you’ve been approaching your spouse about that topic.

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Complaining is harsh. It’s a critique on the character, and not on the behavior,” Erika Boissiere, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco, told TODAY. “A request is asking your partner to do something because it’s important to you.”

Instead of telling your partner that he never picks up his clothes, Boissiere said, try saying something like, “I have a favor to ask. Do you mind picking up your clothes on the ground each morning? It would help me out so much.”

But what if you’ve already asked nicely? Then, Boissiere said, it’s time to unpack why that habit is bothering you so much. For example, if you can’t stand clutter, perhaps it’s because your childhood home was constantly messy, and so you place a lot of importance on having a clean home that your family and guests can enjoy. By explaining this backstory to your partner, you build more compassion.

“When you unpack the why and get into that deeper, more vulnerable space, you allow the person to see a little bit more into how you tick,” Boissiere explained.

Most important, though, is to figure out just how important any given complaint is, Boissiere said. It’s easy for us to get caught up in our vision of what an ideal home and partner looks like, she explained, but in reality, it’s okay if our lives do not match that. What is important to bring to the table, and what can you live with? Set boundaries on what you decide to share and what you keep to yourself.

That way, when you do bring a concern to a partner, your partner won’t feel like it’s the latest addition to a barrage of criticisms, and will be more open to hearing about your needs.

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