“And that’s when I shot her, your Honor” my husband says when he’s annoyed with me, or had it with one of the many quirks I have that drive him crazy. That punch line never fails to make us laugh, and diffuse the situation.

Why does the person you love most get on your nerves so badly? It’s not that men are from Mars, or women are from Venus; it’s more like we all grew up on different planets—and when planets collide, watch out! It seems logical that like would attract like, but in my private counseling practice, it’s obvious that people are often drawn to their opposites. In a new relationship, it’s adorable and exciting. It’s not until partners become comfortable and more relaxed with each other, that all those new and exciting quirks become old and irritating. Familiarity makes those endearing little noises, expressions, habits and oddities stand out like prickles on a cactus.

No matter how much you love each other, you’re likely to get irritated at these annoying bits. But there’s good news, too. It’s possible to work around the irritating quirks of the people you live with, you are friends with, or you deal with at work.

We all like to imagine that life would be smoother, and the relationship would be ideal if your frustrating partner would just change. But, people who have to be separated for a period of time are often surprised to find they miss the little oddities of their loved one’s personality.

Weirdnesses are a part of who your partner is, and part of why you fell in love. The fantasy that you two would be happier if you were more alike seems lovely, but too much similarity becomes boring. On the other hand, if there’s not a certain degree of similarity between you and your partner, the relationship will be too stressful. The excitement and challenge of your relationship comes from your differences, the security and ease of your relationship comes from your similarities. Those blankety-blank quirks are part of the excitement and sustained interest between you.

Because we are all different from one another, with different backgrounds, experience and early training, everyone has small quirks, personality traits or habits that must be accommodated, in one way or another, if we wish to have a sustainable relationship. These quirks (a laugh that grates on the nerves, differences in messiness or neatness, irritating jokes or stories, incompatible work schedules, and different ideas about TV programs or music, housekeeping, your partner’s nailbiting or smoking, what and when to feed the dog, how politely to speak to your children, or how warm the room should be) when endured for months and years, can feel like sufficient reason to get a divorce, or even commit mayhem. Many of these things may seem “silly” and so insignificant that you feel embarrassed to be so unhappy about them, but if you and your partner can’t negotiate and resolve your frustration, small irritations can create enough resentment over time to become serious problems.

Guidelines: Dealing with Your Partner’s Personality Quirks

When such small irritations happen, there are four things you can do.

1. Sometimes, your partner’s quirks, such as being messy, picking at teeth, not putting lids back on jars tightly, watching too much TV, or singing off key, are small enough to be easily dismissed by deciding the “whole package” of your partner more than makes up for the little annoying habits. If you can do this without resentment, your partner’s quirks will cease to be a problem, although occasionally you may need to remind yourself of the benefits of being together.

2. You can also voluntarily modify your own behavior (go to the bathroom to pick teeth, screw the lids on tight) to reduce the annoyance to your partner.

3. You can minimize (by leaving the room or distracting yourself with a project) the impact of your partner’s habits on yourself.

4. If the above three steps don’t work, and you feel irritated and resentful about a quirk or habit, you and your partner can discuss the problem objectively, without blame or defensiveness, to create solutions that satisfy both of you.

Using these guidelines will help you create new ways to be partners for a lifetime without getting on each other’s nerves; and to develop new options for dealing with the irritations when they arise.

Quirks are problematic outside your primary relationship, too. There are people in your life who are easy to be around and others who are more difficult for you. It’s not that they’re bad people, others get along with them fine, and, with a little thought, so can you. Perhaps you need to work a little bit more to understand what they mean, to not take what they say the wrong way, or use a little more patience around them, because their personalities or styles are quite different from yours. It’s worth the work, because your differences will stretch both of you a bit, and enrich my life and understanding in ways that more similar people don’t. Challenging relationships can be the most rewarding, when you understand they have a purpose.
2017 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences (Kindle and Paperback)

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction;The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step and her newest, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina was the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina

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