Years ago, I hung my favorite quote by Mary Engelbreit in my kitchen where I could see it often. It reads, “If you pray for rain, be prepared to deal with some mud.”
I remembered this quote when I was reading through a recent mixed methods research study on long-term relationships, conducted by the Economic & Social Research Council in the UK. They surveyed 4494 people who identified as being in a long-term relationship. One of the open-ended questions they answered was what they liked the best and least in their long-term relationships?
What’s the best part of long-term relationships?
People reported pleasures of shared humor and laughter being one of the best aspects of a long-term relationship.
One of the worst parts was:
ANNOYING HABITS were identified as an ongoing source of daily irritation and one of the least liked aspects in a long-term bond.
Every Relationship has Mud
No long-term relationship is absent of annoying habits. I hear about them all the time, and it’s amazing how many people complain about the same things.
Just for fun (and apparently because of some hidden masochistic streak), I asked my husband what my annoying habits are after thirty years of marriage. The conversation went like this:
Him: I don’t know.
Me: Everyone has them. For starters, you have that sneeze immodulation disorder (my pet term for his outrageous nasal outbursts)…which I hate and which I still think you do on purpose to bug me since no normal person sneezes that way (reflected exactly in this short clip—no kidding, this could be my bedroom).
Him: You’re exaggerating. I don’t sneeze that loud.
Me: If breaking the sound barrier isn’t loud. It’s just like when you suddenly crush a plastic bottle in your hand, which I also think you purposely do to startle me.
Him: Is there a quiet way to crush a plastic bottle? I’m just doing my part to save the planet.
Me: Anyway—what do I do that bugs you?
Him: Why do I feel like I’m being set up?
Me: You’re not. I just want to write a post about annoying habits because they’re in every marriage. OK, here’s what I put for you, besides your alarming trumpet sneezes and bottle squeezes:
Not wiping the counters when you do dishes
Leaving dirty dishes in a sink right next to an empty dishwasher
Folding the towels in fourths instead of thirds so they won’t fit in the closet
Not replacing the toilet paper when it’s used up
Leaving cupboard doors open
Leaving drawers open
Him: I don’t do that—it’s the kids.
Me: Well, it has gotten better. Still, for most of our marriage, our bathroom has looked like the scene from the movie “Date Night,” where she runs into the bathroom and right into the open drawers. I’m not finished:
Leaving the gas tank on empty (since he has some sick need for competing with himself in the game of “How many miles can we drive on fumes today?” which has provided us with several editions of “Prayer-assisted coasting into gas stations”).
Walking in the house and putting your stuff on my pristine countertop
Squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube
Him: I don’t do that anymore.
Me: Well, I wouldn’t know, since I had to get my own tube and hide it.
Him: Look! (Opens bathroom drawer and retrieves toothpaste tube which is indeed rolled from the bottom)
Me: Nice! I apologize. Maybe we have graduated to a single tube…continuing:
Hanging your coat on the stair banister instead of the closet 6 feet away
Leaving your shoes out on the floor instead of the closet 18 inches away
Him: I don’t leave the toilet seat up anymore
Me: True. I haven’t splash-fallen into the toilet in the middle of the night in years. I give you full credit for changing that annoying habit. That’s most of them. Just so you know, there are a lot I left off the list that other wives commonly complain about. OK, so what are my annoying habits?
Him: I seriously can’t think of any…
Me: I know! You’re annoyed when I use your razor.
Him: Oh yeah, I do hate that.
Me: What else? Come on, this is your chance.
Him: Umm…I really can’t think of anything.
Me: What about my parking in the garage? (I found out about this when I pulled into the garage one day and my 3 year-old son blabbed, “Dad says you’re a bad parker.”) You complain that I park in your space and don’t leave you enough room to open your car door.
Him: I guess. I don’t really see that as an annoying habit, though.
Me: It is! Especially since I don’t try that hard to change it even though I know it’s annoying. Plus, I’ve never had good spatial aptitude. What else?
Him: Honey, I honestly can’t think of any annoying habits.
Me: What about me asking you these questions? Don’t you find that annoying?
Him: Umm….Yes? I don’t know what you want from me.
Me: Really? So is it safe to say that my most annoying habit is getting annoyed by your annoying habits? And then complaining about them?
Him: Yeah, pretty much.
Me: Well,if it makes you feel better, I don’t complain about your loud chewing—that’s the kids. I don’t complain about your snoring, either.
Him: No, you just hit me in the middle of the night to roll over.
Me: Whatever it takes so that more than one of us can get some sleep.
That conversation with my husband instigated some self-reflection on my part. I was shamed by the fact that I had such a long trivial list, designed to make my life more convenient, while he struggled to identify anything. I like things orderly, but I am not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination.
But then I remembered a time when my son came up from the basement and invited, “Mom, we want you to come downstairs and see what we have been doing, but here’s the thing: Please don’t come down and start telling us to shut any doors or cupboards or tell us to pick stuff up off the floor. We just want you to see what we are doing.” Oh. I did do that. All the time.
My anxiety level in a messy room was hurting my relationships, even if I didn’t qualify for a clinical diagnosis. No wonder my husband was the favorite parent. He could just “BE,” with my kids, without trying to control the surroundings. I envied him.
Looking on the Engelbreit Side
Almost every annoying habit has a flip side. My husband tolerates chaos better than I, and may not have an eye for tidiness, but he has also never criticized me for not meeting his expectations, around the house or otherwise. If I berate myself for my own inadequacies, he tells me I’m awesome and to stop it.
Another of Mary Engelbreit’s quotes is applicable here. She said, “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” Classic CBT….beautiful artwork and sound psychological advice in one.
It’s easy to slap a negative character label on a spouse who isn’t meeting expectations. The ones I hear the most are “lazy,” and “selfish.” Annoying habits can feel like a purposeful affront, designed to frustrate. That’s rarely the case. Most of the time, they are unintentional and a consequence of busy daily living.
So, instead of thinking, “Why is he such a slob?” it might be more helpful to think, “What do I need to change about myself or my thinking so this doesn’t bother me so much?”
You can only change yourself anyway.
The other day I got a photo text from my husband. It was a picture of my dirty clothes sitting on top of the hamper. I knew he didn’t care if I left my clothes there, but he was nailing me for my blatant hypocrisy. “I deserved that,” I pondered, remembering the week before when, after finding his clothes on the lid (again), I exaggerated a demonstration of opening the lid to the hamper and dumping the clothes inside, “Voilà,” emphasizing that the required force was less than that required to lift one’s fancy bike into a suburban.
As I viewed the photo, I could picture being at home when he gleefully discovered my negligence. He would have made a joke about it, unlike myself, who would have expressed annoyance. Again.
Wow. I really am annoying. I need to work on that.
Enduring love? Couple relationships in the 21st century: Survey findings report by Gabb, J., Klett-Davies, M., Fink, J., & Thomae, M. (2013). The Open University and Economic Social and research council, UK, retrieved at: http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/enduringlove/sites/www.open.ac.uk.researchprojects.enduringlove/files/files/final_survey_report.pdf
Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_famveldman’>famveldman / 123RF Stock Photo</a>