Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Stick with someone long enough and chances are one of their personal traits or habits will start to drive you crazy. Whether it is the way they chew their food, laugh in a hee-haw fashion, or leave the lights on when they exit a room, these minor irritants can start to take on a life of their own, eclipsing any non-irritating qualities your partner may have.
Everyone addresses their partner’s annoying habits in a different way. Take sloppy chewing. Some use sarcasm (“Is there a cow in here?”), others humor (“I can hear just how much you love my spaghetti Bolognese”), and still others give ultimatums (“If you don’t stop chewing like a cow, you can eat by yourself”).
For my friend, Lily, the thing that drove her nutty about her husband was just how long it took him to make a decision. Lily is a senior administrator, smart as a whip, who has to deal with many pressing issues every single day that require a focused and speedy resolution. She is not a gal who has the luxury of time to dilly dally around. Nor is she patient with those who do–including her husband.
She was confronted by her husband’s indecision during a recent shopping trip to buy luggage for their upcoming vacation to Italy. It was a Saturday, time was precious, and Lily was hoping they could dispense with this trivial task in minutes so she could get on with her day. Her husband however was pulling every piece of luggage off the rack, checking the warranty, pulling on the zippers, examining the stitching on the pockets, scrutinizing the shape, size and color, and Googling consumer reports on each brand. “It’s luggage for Christ’s sake,” Lily thought impatiently but did not express out loud.
Her husband’s indecision wasn’t the only thing getting on her nerves. Other things were starting to annoy her too. Like why had it taken her 18 years to notice that he slurps water when he drinks? She was finding it uncomfortable to be in the same room with him–the sound of his slurping was like nails on a chalkboard. “Oh crap,” she started to worry, “are my petty grievances a gateway to a major relationship meltdown?”
She started to panic. And then she put on her strategic thinking cap. If Lily was going to preserve her relationship, she had better figure out a way to make peace with her husband’s annoying habits. She knew she had to take some accountability here to see her husband in a more positive light–and quick.
She began to think hard about whether her expectations were fair. Did she really want her husband to be a snappy decision-maker like her? Sure, he can’t compete in areas she is good at, but he didn’t seem to criticize her for being a worse cook than him, or for not knowing what to do when that puzzling indicator light comes on in their car (other than calling him). Is it possible that what she labeled “indecision” and his inability to make a snap decision really more about his meticulousness and attention to detail–the competencies that serve him well as a research scientist? And aren’t these exactly the same strengths he draws on to ensure their family’s financial security–thoughtful financial planning, well-researched investments, careful tracking of every expenditure to keep to a budget. The pay-off of his talents has been invaluable–including that trip to Italy which could never have happened if she was in charge of the family purse.
And that slurping? Those lips that slurp are the same lips that make her melt when he kisses her.
Most of us have been guilty of trying to change people. It is often a futile exercise that mostly leaves our head hurting from banging it against the wall. Perhaps the better approach is to value what our partners do bring to the table, rather than what they don’t.
Sue Nador is a relationship strategist. She helps hash out expectations in the messy world of love in a pragmatic, humorous and straight-talking way on her blog. Sue lives with her husband, two sons and goldendoodle in Toronto.