Everyone has an internal blueprint or plan on how a household should be put together and how a family should operate. For instance: one person may prefer keeping a sponge to the left side of the sink. Their partner may prefer the sponge be kept to the right side of the sink, or under the sink, or even in a special sponge container. Every single thing in the house could potentially have an internal “rule” about where it should go. A more common issue that comes up in marriage counseling is how to load the dishwasher, or just how to process dirty dishes. And every single activity performed in the family could have a “rule” as well. These rules are based on a variety of factors: how we did it in our family of origin, how we did it in previous relationships, or with roommates, or when living alone. No matter how you learned the rule – it may irritate you, even just a little bit, to see the rule “broken” by your spouse. Not every “broken rule” will necessarily frustrate or irritate you. Sometimes you may even prefer the way your spouse does it, and you may change your rule if you see one you like better.
But when something continually irritates you, we can call that a pet peeve. Some pet peeves are worth mentioning to your partner. Because your partner may be willing, or even happy to adjust how they do things, if they only knew what you needed – or how you felt every time you came across this breaking of your internal rule. This kind of marital stress can be helped.
What happens if you don’t communicate is that frustrations, irritation, and resentment can build. If this builds too much, it can start to affect the quality of your connections with your spouse and so affect the quality of your of your relationship.
Many of the couples I work with have never shared their pet peeves with their partner. And some spent years trying to share them and finally gave up when they were met with indifference, anger or defensiveness. Many couples do whatever they can to avoid conflict, and so are never able to share things that have meaning and importance to them, with their spouse. This limits the quality and depth of the marriage, and increases stress in the relationship.
Here are some approaches to consider, if you want to try to make your life more comfortable and enjoyable, by bringing up some of your pet peeves successfully.
- Ask for your partner’s attention first – don’t blindside them. Example: “There’s this little thing that has been bothering me, that I’d like to ask you about. Do you have a couple of minutes to talk about it?”
- Make sure you are asking, not demanding something. This is not the time to work on being “assertive”. I suggest a fairly passive request format. Example: “I wonder if you’d be willing to consider storing the sponge on the left side of the sink, rather than on the right side.”
- Be sure you are taking some breaths deep into your belly. This helps you relax and not create too much tension in the interaction. No need to be obvious about taking a breath or two. But…be aware, when tense, many people stop breathing, and a lack of oxygen will not help you think.
- Share a feeling or two. Example: “When I see the sponge showing up all over the kitchen I feel sad, hurt, and irritated. I feel better when there is a regular order to where the sponge is. I feel uncomfortable/anxious/ unhappy/ bad/etc. and my need is for order/reliability/to know that you care about what makes me happy (or whatever your need is).”
- You may want to put a “frame” around it to make it easier for your partner to hear. A “frame” might be something like this introduction to the topic: “I know this is a very minor issue, but I noticed it has been bothering me, and I wonder if you could help me with it.
- Be sure to make the request clear, but do it in a very gentle way. The example given earlier is usually a safe bet: “I’m wondering if you’d be willing to __________”. This phrasing is particularly useful if asking a man for something. Men, I have noticed in couples counseling, don’t enjoy the experience of a woman “telling them what to do”, but seem much more open to being asked if they’d be willing to do something. Try it out for yourself, and see if this works for you.
Everyone has pet peeves. Some may not be worth bringing up. After all, you don’t want to criticize or control everything your spouse does. But some of the pet peeves you have can be communicated, so that you can have a more enjoyable and satisfying life. Good luck in experimenting with the suggestions mentioned here.
You will find other helpful relationship information on my website: www.donwallach.com.