‘‘Remind yourself that you also have habits that others might find annoying.’’
About Last Night
Q: Ray and I haven’t been getting along well lately, and I feel irritated and annoyed by almost everything he does – the way he sips his coffee, hums under his breath when concentrating, leaves shaving hair in the sink, and the way he bunches up the damp tea towel, and drops it in the draining rack. He’s actually a great guy, and even writing this makes me feel like a mean, hypercritical nit-picker. What is wrong with me?
A: Even the best relationships go through bad patches. They may result from disagreement, misunderstanding, or miscommunication. External pressures affect the mood of one or both partners – money worries, work, the demands of children ... With goodwill, patience, and a willingness to listen, and to compromise, the bad spell usually passes.
When you are in that space, however, you can be torn between being angry with your partner, and feeling guilty, and unsure if you are in the right, so you start cataloguing examples of what the other does wrong. The more you notice faults, the more faults you see.
Do not beat yourself up, but remind yourself that you also have habits and idiosyncrasies that others might find annoying. Perhaps you can think of a few of them, and smile at yourself for being human. Write a list of the things about Ray that annoy you. Be as petty as you like. Do not self-censor.
Now, write a list of everything you do like about Ray, such as the fact he dries dishes. You might find that this list is actually longer than the ‘‘dislike’’ list. By training yourself to focus on the good, you will start to create a more positive environment for both of you.
InWabi Sabi Love: The Ancient Art of Finding Perfect Love in Imperfect Relationships,Arielle Ford applies an old, Japanese philosophy to modern relationships. Wabi Sabihonours the beauty and perfection of things that are flawed. A famous example is a massive vase that has a crack down one side. The crack has been highlighted with gold, and the vase is displayed with a spotlight on the crack.
Applying this to relationships, Ford tells of the man who loves poppyseed bagels. Every morning, he prepares a bagel, and walks around eating it. Every day, the kitchen floor is scattered with poppy seeds. One day, as his wife is cleaning the floor for the umpteenth time, she angrily asks herself how she could escape this irritation. Then she realises it would stop if he was no longer around, and she goes and gives him a hug.
When my children were little, we took a Parent Effectiveness Training course, and found the principles just as useful in other contexts, especially the tips about the power of positive reinforcement.
For example, if you tell a child, ‘‘Don’t touch the heater’’, or, ‘‘Don’t play on the road’’, they hear the words ‘‘touch the heater’’ and ‘‘play on the road’’. If you say, ‘‘Stay away from the
heater’’ or, ‘‘Only play on the pavement’’ they hear you explain the behaviour you require. We soon tune out to negative messages. They sound like nagging, and we get defensive, or rebellious.
The other tip is to ignore the bad, and praise the good. Rather than repeatedly saying ‘‘Don’t drop your clothes on the floor!’’, ask that dirty washing be put in the laundry basket. Wait until that happens, then praise them to the skies.
In your situation, you might say, ‘‘I appreciate you drying the dishes. When you finish, could you hang the tea towel up to dry, please?’’ After that, ignore the bunched-up tea towel, or quietly hang it up yourself. As soon as he hangs it up, thank him, and tell him you appreciate the change in behaviour. It might feel fake or clunky at first, but it will eliminate a lot of negativity.
About Last Night Blogs are written by Maureen Mathews, published by Fairfax media and kindly shared on Bliss for Women. If you wish to ask Maureen a question you can email her through firstname.lastname@example.org using About Last Night in the subject of the email.
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