How to deal when the person you love most in the world is also the person that makes you crazy
I recently received an email from a reader that I think many of you can relate to. Here is a snippet:
“Hi, Dr. Berman:
I love your work and I have been trying to apply the philosophies from your new book Quantum Love into my relationship. I really connect to the idea that I am in charge of my mood and that our partners are our greatest teachers. However, I am struggling with how to apply to this to my relationship during times when I am frustrated with my husband, Mark. We have been married for 20 years, and while I love him more than anyone else in the world, he also can irritate me like no other!
For example, I can’t stand driving with him…he brakes suddenly, and he messes with the radio constantly. Or, another example, he always leaves dirty dishes piled up in the sink. He tells me he will clean them, and he does, but it takes a few days. I don’t want to look at nasty dishes, so I end up cleaning them. Also, he is always criticizing my tastes in T.V. shows. If I want to watch the Real Housewives, what business is it of his!? I don’t judge him for watching reruns of Murder, She Wrote.
I was just wondering, how can I apply the lessons in your book to getting over these irritations? I know they are petty, but sometimes, it really, really makes me mad!
Annies’s email brought a smile to my face, because I think almost every single person in a relationship can relate to these sentiments! We love our partners, but the reality is that living with someone 24/7 isn’t always easy. The little foibles and behaviors of our loved ones can definitely be irritating, so how can we manage these feelings while staying tuned into a ‘zen’ frame of mind? How can we love our partners with a generous, patient love…even while they are clipping their toenails in bed like a crazy person!?
The answer is simple: We can do both. We have this story in our heads that being irritated with our loved ones is wrong. That finding your husband annoying is something to be ashamed of or hidden. But here’s the thing: It’s okay to find each other annoying. (Because I guarantee your partner finds you annoying at times as well!). The only reason it doesn’t feel okay is because we don’t let it. We try to smash the feelings inside or grit our teeth when our partner does something we don’t like. We think that’s love. We think that is how you create a peaceful relationship. But look inside of yourself during those moments. Do you feel at peace? Do you feel in love? Do you feel connected to your partner? Or do you feel like you want to throw the dirty dishes at them?
If so, guess what: Your partner can feel that energy. Maybe they don’t even realize it on a conscious level. But they feel it. And they respond to it—they respond to that tense, coiled up, icky feeling you have inside of yourself, and in turn, they begin to vibrate at that same frequency as well. That’s how quantum physics works…like responds to like. Energy works like a magnet. Ergo, tension breeds tension. Irritation breeds irritation.
So what’s my quantum solution to this very earthly problem? Allow yourself to be irritated with your partner. Don’t try to squash it down. But, similarly, don’t make it into a story in which you are the victim and he is the villain—“Dirty dishes in the sink again! I guess I will have to clean them!” Because, no, you really don’t. If you clean them, it’s your choice. If you don’t clean them, it’s your choice. You aren’t ever going to be able to control whether your husband leaves a dirty plate in the sink (And why would you want to? You are his lover, not his mother), but you can control how you react to it and how you feel about it. You can make up whatever story you want about it. So why choose to make up a story that hurts you and makes you angry? (He doesn’t appreciate me. He never listens to me. I always do all the work). Why not choose a story that empowers you and uplifts you? (My partner doesn’t worry about dishes the same way I do. For the sake of love, I can choose to wash his dishes and not yell at him about it. This doesn’t make me a hero. This doesn’t make him my enemy. It makes us teammates.)
But, if washing the dishes makes you feel angry and betrayed and you are unable to embrace a new story about them, then I suggest not doing them. You might not be at a place where that feels okay to you. And that’s fine.
As for his comments about your T.V. watching, I think it is fair to say, “It hurts my feelings when you mock my shows. It makes me feel judged and belittled. Can we agree that this topic is off-limits from now on?”
So, here are the keys to dealing with these annoying problems in relationships:
- Accept that it is okay to be annoyed with each other. It doesn’t make you less in love. It doesn’t make you a bad partner or a small-minded person. It makes you human.
- Try to find out what is really annoying you. Half the time the annoyance doesn’t stem from our partner’s behavior but from the story we make up about their behavior. These stories can often have surprising roots—for example, maybe Annie feels like Mark is being lazy about the dishes because she grew up in a household where her father never helped out. Hence, it is easy for her to jump to the conclusion that Mark is purposely being unhelpful. Examine your stories. Where do they come from?
- See if you can make up a new story. Maybe Mark isn’t being selfish or lazy, maybe he just has a different viewpoint about aesthetics than Annie. To him, a messy home might feel lived-in and homey. He doesn’t view his dirty dishes as an attack on his wife. They are just an object to him. So, if possible, see if you can understand your partner’s story and rewrite your own story.
- Be good to yourself. If it doesn’t feel okay to you, then it isn’t okay. Your energetic state is yours to control and maintain, so if you feel hurt or betrayed by these behaviors, you shouldn’t blindly accept them. That’s not ‘zen’—it’s masochism.
- Be honest. Speak up cleanly, calmly, and kindly about the behavior you want your partner to change. Acknowledge your part in the situation, and give action steps for your partner to follow (Please don’t remark on my television shows anymore.)
What about you, readers? Do you have any good advice on how to deal with your partner’s annoying little habits? What does your partner do that bugs you?