Pet Peeves ... and What You Can Do About Them
As a marriage and family therapist for close to forty years, I've had the opportunity to hear the full range of complaints that couples have about their partners. I'm not talking about big issues, such as sex, money, or child rearing strategies. I'm talking about little things that can become the focus of what's not working and lead to feelings of anger, isolation, separation, and disconnection.
Here's a partial list: My partner...
* doesn't talk very much and doesn't make his needs and views known. He has the fantasy I should be a mind reader and magically know what he's thinking.
* talks in global generalities and is so dramatic that I can't bring up anything, much less find solutions, without things getting out of hand.
* gives unsolicited advice and tells me what I should do, whether it's about the kids, the way I drive, or how I dress. Her default setting is to try to control me, parent me, or lecture me.
* doesn't listen to what I say - he is distracted by television, computer, video game, football, or reading a magazine or book.
* is a naysayer / wet blanket. She rarely gives me compliments, appreciations, or the benefit of the doubt.
* interrupts me when I'm talking.
* is perpetually late or the opposite - always wants to be early to any event.
* doesn't acknowledge my feelings when I share them and instead tunes me out.
* doesn't clean up after himself, help with housework, or appreciate how hard I work to maintain the home.
* doesn't back me up when I set boundaries and consequences with the children.
* doesn't put the toilet seat down.
* drives like a grandmother or a race car driver.
* agrees to social events without consulting me.
"Since there's nothing else to do, want to ransack the place
and clean it all over again?"
How to Make Peace with your Pet Peeves
Regardless of the complaint, as a psychotherapist and the author of Attitude Reconstruction, my strategy is usually the same. I
help people understand that what they're doing is not fueling feelings of connection. There is no right or wrong. There are just differences. And if they want to feel love, sometimes they just need to accept some things and let go. And sometimes they need to speak up and try to get things to change.
Most often the pet peeve is not really a deal breaker. Sometimes we just have to give it a rest and adopt a genuine stance of acceptance. Yes, accept that our partner doesn't put the toilet seat down, or call exactly when he or she promises. Acceptance is most easily accomplished by repeating until you can truly "get it," laugh, and let go of things needing to be your way. "My wife drives the way she does, not the way I think she should drive." Or "My husband doesn't put his dirty dishes in the sink and that's the way it is."
True acceptance means that we don't make snarky comments or jokes about our differences. We put the complaint on the shelf.
However, if you know that you need to speak up, it's essential that you articulate your pet peeves by following the Attitude Reconstruction Four Communication Rules. Remember it's hard to be open and receptive when we feel attacked.
Rule #1. -- It's crucial that you talk about yourself rather than finger-pointing. Talk about how you feel, why, and what you'd like.
Rule #2 -- You must stay specific so that the other person can understand exactly what is so difficult for you ,and only address one topic at a time.
Rule #3 -- Focus on constructive win-win solutions, acknowledging what does work well.
Rule #4 -- Listen well, taking the time to truly hear and understand the other person's perspective.
Make your talk a discussion, not an ultimatum, and compromise to find the best solution that best honors you both. Either tactic, surrender or lovingly speaking up, will bring more intimacy and is preferable to fuming or striking out.
It takes some effort and boldness to make change but it's worth the effort. Consider buying a copy of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life for details about how to go about the rewarding task of acceptance, and how to communicate simply, lovingly, and effectively.