“Little things can eventually erode your relationship,” said Christina Steinorth, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.
She likened the damage to water trickling down a stone. A few drips won’t leave a mark. But over time the water “will leave a dent and break that stone.”
Over time how you feel about a pet peeve, or irritating behavior, can build and balloon.
Not washing the dishes becomes you don’t appreciate me. Silly comments in public become you’re disrespecting me.
But there are some simple ways you can deal with these pet peeves before they cause serious damage to your relationship.
There’s typically a gender difference in partners’ complaints. Men tend to complain about women interrupting them, finishing their sentences, calling them cutesy names in public and being critical in front of their co-workers and friends, Steinorth said. Women tend to complain about men’s uncouth behaviors, such as passing gas, burping and licking their fingers after eating, she said.
Here, Steinorth shares how to deal with pet peeves, without hurting your partner or bruising your relationship.
1. Don’t raise your pet peeve in public.
Avoid nagging, or correcting the behavior in public, Steinorth said. Instead of embarrassing your partner, talk in private. (Plus, “[Nagging] becomes white noise.”)
2. Acknowledge what you do like.
What works much better than nagging, Steinorth said, is positive reinforcement. “If you compliment your partner generously and genuinely, you send a powerful message that has more impact to change his or her behavior than criticizing.” So when your partner does something you like, let them know, and show your appreciation.
3. Consider if the behavior is a pet peeve or a deal-breaker.
According to Steinorth, think about the behaviors that truly bother you, and the ones you can live with. (If a behavior brings you emotional or physical harm, it’s no longer a pet peeve, and deserves serious consideration and possibly counseling, she said.)
4. Consider solutions.
Let’s say your partner frequently hijacks the TV remote, Steinorth said. Can you have a second TV for watching your shows? If they regularly forget to turn off the outside lights, can you install an automatic timer? In other words, brainstorm some solutions around your pet peeves.
5. Have a mutual discussion.
Your partner will be much more receptive to the conversation if you make it about the behaviors both of you can change. You might simply ask, “Do I do something that you don’t like?” Steinorth said.
6. Chat at the right time.
Don’t try to squeeze in a talk between work and other commitments. And avoid talking when either of you is stressed or in a bad mood. A good time to talk is while taking a walk, “with cell phones turned off,” she said.
7. Check in with yourself.
Sometimes, your mood might magnify the pet peeve. When you’re stressed, anxious or upset, everything tends to get on your nerves, Steinorth said. “Be honest with your partner.” For instance, you might say, “I’m just having a bad day, and I don’t want to snap at you over something stupid.” Engage in a relaxing activity, such as meditating or reading a magazine, she said. “It’s not right to take our stuff out on our partners.”
8. Weigh what’s important.
If your partner keeps repeating the behavior, you can address it from time to time, Steinorth said. But it also helps to have perspective. In other words, if your partner were gone tomorrow, she said, would you really care about this pet peeve? Steinorth’s husband has been licking his fingers after meals for over a decade. But he’s a great man and a loving spouse, and they have a wonderful relationship. So this pet peeve becomes inconsequential.
Before assuming that dirty dishes or nitpicky remarks are a sign your partner doesn’t love you, talk to them. According to Steinorth, doing so will make your relationship stronger and more satisfying.