If you’ve been sheltering in place with your partner for months, without a physical escape or even an emotional outlet, you may be, well, in dire need of some space. Over time—even in regular circumstances—certain quirks that you find lightly irritating can grow to a level of debilitating irksomeness. But now, after entire seasons spent in quarantine, that debilitatingly irksome quirk may well be the only thing you can see about them: Is it not possible for this human to express one positive thought? Does the TV need to be on 24/7? Must they constantly be texting their friends? Why can’t they just close the cabinets? You get the idea.
If this scenario sounds all too familiar, know that, at the very least, you’re not alone in suddenly feeling unable to tolerate that thing about your significant other, say relationship therapists. “We normally ignore the things that drive us crazy because we have a busy life and we are moving around, out of the house, focused on our own things,” says relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD. “Now, with nothing else to look at except Zoom and Netflix, it can be easy to hone in on the things we don’t like about the person we live with.”
However, Dr. Nelson points out, you should know that it’s not your partner’s fault if you’re miserable. “Their negative traits have probably been there all along,” she says. “They just bother you more now that you’re stuck at home with them,” This also means, then, that these traits aren’t going anywhere anytime soon—even post-pandemic. So you might want to figure out how to stop being annoyed around them now.
To do this, experts advise flipping the script to address your own feelings rather than take issue first with your partner’s actions. Below, they offer suggestions for how to stop being annoyed by your partner’s negative traits and reframe them as positives.
How to stop being annoyed with your partner’s flaws by embracing them as positives, according to pros.
1. Note the specific positives associated with that negative
Recently, I complained to my therapist that my boyfriend is such a loner, and her response was something along the lines of this: “How wonderful that you’ve found someone who understands your own need for a lot of alone time to create and recharge.” Ever since that conversation, I’ve considered myself lucky to be dating a human who requires far less togetherness than my past boyfriends did, because it’s afforded me lot of time to enjoy my two favorite things—solitude and creative writing.
And according to clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, my difficultly in accepting traits that are both essential to my partner and reflective of why we work well together is common. “It’s strange how the things you love best about a person are sometimes the exact things that are most frustrating,” she says. “You might hate someone’s messiness but love that you can relax and don’t need to be perfect around them.”
Taking notice of this association between their behavior or trait you find irritating and the associated positive gains these annoyances ultimately afford you can help tame your irritation. For example, the next time your partner reads you yet another unsolicited depressing news story, remind yourself that one of the things you love about them is their curiosity and intellect.
2. Ask yourself whether the trait is actually harming you
That’s because, Dr. Darmus says, the distinction between “different from” from and “harmful to” is so key, and the two are often conflated. For example, “you might wish they’d hang their wet towels up more neatly, but crooked towels aren’t hurting you.”
Maintaining such perspective is important, agrees relationship expert and psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD. “These traits usually register low on the ‘scale of offensive behaviors’,” she says. “Anything too horrible wouldn’t be able to be tolerated in even small quantities, and would have been obvious early into the relationship.”
3. Make allowances for the stress of the moment
Keep in mind that your partner may have developed some new quirks during this time due to stress—people react to stress in a variety of ways, and, yes, some of them can be irritating. “Some people, when overwhelmed, become spacey, or messy, or tense, or easily frustrated,” says Dr. Steinberg. “Rather than focus in on the symptom, we should dial in on the cause.”
Once you’ve identified something as a stress-induced behavior, you can then help your partner manage the underlying issue or, at the very least, develop some compassion around it.
4. Take a timeout
You may be staying home together more than ever before, but that doesn’t mean you have to be physically in the same space, interacting, all the time. “It is okay to not spend every night or even most nights with your partner and instead re-focus on quiet solitude, alone time,” Dr. Steinberg says. “This allows for space within a somewhat claustrophobic and isolating situation.”
5. Stay humble
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that, well, your sh*t also stinks. “Remember, you have annoying traits, too,” says Dr. Nelson.
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