Stubble in the sink. Wet towels on the floor. Forgot to call – again! Sound familiar? Quirks that irk. Pet peeves that have grown prickly and ever so annoying, sure to kill the romance.
“Anyone in a love relationship can probably list three to five irritating behaviours of his or her partner without skipping a beat,” says Christina Steinorth, relationship expert, psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House).
“Research shows that such minor but annoying behaviours become more irksome over time in love relationships… they have the potential to drive a wedge between two people if not discussed openly,” says Steinorth.
Quirks can sap the sizzle in and out of the bedroom, says Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, a New York-based couples therapist at doctorbonnie.com. “They’re romance wreckers eroding closeness and intimacy.”
Pet peeves can include personality traits too, initial attractants that become irritants: His meticulous grooming is now viewed as vain. Intensely organized is now interpreted as being anal. Her gift of the gab is no gift at all.
“What you once loved, you end up hating,” says Eaker Weil. “It’s common.”
At the beginning of a relationship, our vision is clouded by lust and we typically turn a blind eye to bad habits, says Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up. “When the hormones die down, the warts appear as if out of nowhere.”
And left to fester, annoyance and resentment grow, and emotional divorce turns into real divorce, says Eaker Weil.
According to Laurie Puhn, a couples mediator, “When a marriage is in trouble, the people in it are nit-pickers... When a marriage is happy, the people in it are overlookers.”
Inequalities and flaws get uglier and more irritating as partners feel disconnected and neglected over time, says Puhn. “You really wouldn’t care so much about the laundry on the floor if your mate went out of his way every day to make you feel special and important.”
Avoid the scorecard mentality which can destroy your marriage. “Have monthly conversations about whether you and your mate feel appreciated by the other. When you openly share, you can repair,” advises Puhn, author of Fight Less, Love More.
We all have quirks and foibles, agree the experts. Focus on what's right in the relationship, not always on what’s wrong.
According to psychotherapist Christina Steinorth, these bad habits are some of the more common irritants in a relationship:
Leaving wet towels on the floor
Using a fork to scratch a back
Putting their feet up on the table
Interrupting their partners when they’re trying to speak
Criticizing their partner in public
Using cutesy/babyish nicknames in public
Lessen the irk of the quirk with tips from expert Steinorth:
Tell your partner what makes you happy. You might say, “When you hang up your towel, it makes me feel as though you’re being respectful and considerate of me, and I really appreciate that.” Positive reinforcement always works better than negative reinforcement.
Ask what irritates your partner. Let your partner know you’re willing to make small behavioural changes to please him or her, too. Hold a “clear the air” session - mutually agree to do better.
Find the right time to talk. A good way to have an undistracted conversation is to take a walk together - with cellphones turned off.
Make comments on positive behaviours. Complimenting your partner sends a powerful message that can change behaviour. “If your partner has issues with hygiene or appearance, tell him he smells really sexy after he’s stepped out of the shower.”
Put the annoying behaviour in perspective. “If your partner treats you well in most every other way, is a wet towel on the floor really such a big deal?”