Sure, you and your boyfriend really seem to ‘connect’, so why is it that his weird habits get under your skin? Maybe it’s his inability to set the dishwasher, or his tendency to answer his cellphone during romantic dinners that puts you on edge. You try not to, but you can’t seem to stop fixating on some minor flaw.
‘When something that’s seemingly petty annoys you, it can be because you’re harbouring larger doubts,’ says psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall, author of Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and When to Walk Away. Here’s how to tell if your bickering is linked to a niggle – or to something more serious.
FIND THE PROBLEM Think hard about your little quarrels and look closer to see if any of these points ring true:
|You wouldn’t care if a friend did the same thing.||You’re happy to rain-check if a girlfriend cancels plans, but it’s unforgivable when he does it. This indicates you’re anxious about your partner, not his behaviour. (If you get mad when people cancel on you in general, it’s your own pet peeve.)|
|You’re always wound up by an unrelated trigger.|
|Random things remind you of his other ‘offences’.|
CLARIFY YOUR ISSUES
If you’re certain that the tiff isn’t a trivial one, ask yourself, ‘What is it – specifically – about his habit (i.e. leaving dirty towels on the bedroom floor) that freaks me out so much?’ You should be aware that some bigger issues are yours to deal with, not his. For example, if you start feeling irritated whenever he pigs out on dessert, is it because you are struggling with your weight?
Talk about it when you’re both relaxed, say, while lazing around on a Sunday afternoon. Back up your position with an example, like, ‘I know I get cranky when you go to the bar with your friends. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just feel we’re not getting enough time together.’ Then ask him to suggest solutions, so he’s part of the action plan.
Remember, it’s not what your partner does that bugs you; it’s what the actions represent, and how they affect your relationship. Keep the conversation rational and productive – don’t nag.
Now, back off and give him time to mull it over. If you have a good bond, he’ll see the bigger picture and make an effort to compromise. But if he shrugs off your concerns, the conflict won’t go away. It’s your call: you have to decide whether you can accept his flaw. Deal with your issue or call it a deal-breaker and move on.