It’s a simple truth that if you stay around anyone long enough, you will start to find certain things they do irritating. I’ve heard it all in Houston relationship counseling and at couples workshops: she doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste; he doesn’t clean up unless you tell him exactly what to do; she responds when you speak to her, but doesn’t remember the conversation later; he snores; she always leaves all the lights on. And on. And on.

How in the world do any of us ever learn to live with anyone else and avoid becoming a character on Seinfeld? Often, if you complain to people about seemingly minor issues, you’ll get marriage advice along the lines of “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “pick your battles.” While there is some truth to that, it doesn’t help if your annoyance continues to build.

Houston Relationship Counseling: Where Is Your Irritation Coming From?

Are you really that annoyed about him leaving dirty socks on the floor, or is it about the fact that you feel like you’re always cleaning up and doing everything around the house by yourself? Is your frustration over her forgetfulness when you speak to her really about that, or is it the feeling that she doesn’t value you enough to pay attention when you speak?

If you blow up at your partner over a sock or a toothpaste cap, they may justifiably think you are being ridiculous even if you have a well of emotion behind your irritation. It is only after you know what’s really bothering you about their behavior that you can start to repair the actual problem in your relationship.

Houston Relationship Counseling: When to Confront

By the time people have come to me for Houston relationship counseling seeking marriage advice, the irritations have obviously reached their boiling point, so I advise them to phrase their confrontations with their partners in terms of the way the irritations make them feel. Often, this makes their partner less defensive and more receptive, because they will understand that it isn’t a sock that’s the problem, but that their partner feels alone in maintaining their home.

However, most of us would do better to follow a version of the “don’t sweat the small stuff” advice if we haven’t already let our irritation build too much. But rather than burying your feelings, which seems to be the implication in that advice, I say you should explore them as I mentioned above. Figure out what’s really bothering you and decide whether or not it is worth bringing up. In a long relationship, and especially in marriage, there are going to be things that annoy you, and both of you will have to compromise again and again. If you know a behavior is going to continue to be a problem for you, address it as soon as possible. In fact, studies have shown that the earlier you confront a problem, the easier it is to work out a compromise.

If you need help talking to your partner about these minor irritations, consider coming to Houston relationship counseling or attending a couples workshop for help.

UPCOMING EVENT: Group Therapy groups are forming for the week of March 13th: Couples, Men, and High School Students (coed). For specifics, please contact Damian Duplechain, Certified Group Psychotherapist.