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At the beginning of your relationship, you may have noticed a few quirks about your partner or silly habits they had. In the grand scheme of things they weren’t that important; so you overlooked them. You may have even found them cute or endearing to some degree.
Well, that was in the beginning. By now you may have known your partner going on 2, 3, or even 5 years. Whether you’re married, engaged, or still in the process of planning these events, you might be seeing these cute little quirks in a different light. Now they annoy you and you just wish your partner would stop doing that. But changing your partner’s habit isn’t easy, or necessarily the right thing to do.
When You Want to Change Your Partner’s Habits
Well, you’re around your partner a lot more now, and as time passes, these small quirks add up and compound and may start to get on your nerves, as you ask yourself why they do the things they do.
“Do they really not remember to turn off the lights on when leaving EVERY room?”
“Why don’t they just replace the trash bag after they’ve taken the full one out?”
“After making room in the closet for all those shoes, why are so many pairs still just lying around the house in random places?”
They were small and insignificant before (although you did notice them), but now some of them are beginning to stand out. There are patterns to this madness, and you might feel like you’re the only one that actually cares about these things. On top of that, they’re probably having a negative impact on you.
Are you supposed to be the one following them and turning off the lights after they leave each room? Are you supposed to check every time that they’ve replaced the trash bag? Are you supposed to be the one that picks up all of their shoes every day?
How to Confront the Situation, Not the Person
The truth is EVERYONE has quirks about them. What one person does or does not do can perplex, annoy, or even enrage another – especially if there are several quirks, and they begin to compound.
In our Top 10 Rules for a Happy Marriage, we talked about accepting your partner for who they are and not trying to change them. But we realize there will be things you can’t ignore. What we’ve learned is, there is a way to discuss these things with your partner in a constructive manner. The key is to choose your words wisely and not to put them down or display any disgust.
When you’re ready to discuss it with your partner, remember these key things:
- They’re most likely doing what they have always done throughout their life, and this is a reflection of their personality and who they are
- Please don’t jump to the conclusion that they are doing it intentionally to piss you off – because 9 times out of 10, they aren’t. That’s just who they are and how their mind works.
We’re trying to open a conversation, not start a fight. The timing is also important. Avoid bringing these things up when you or your partner are busy, stressed, or don’t have the time to dedicate 100% of your attention to the conversation.
The Ideal Outcome
What we’re going for is a conversation where both people can weigh in, neither feels threatened or cornered, and there is a willingness, for BOTH people, to listen and consider the feedback from the other person.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows, and it doesn’t even mean the issue is going to be resolved the first time you discuss it. Create the right environment and start the conversation with the clear intent of a resolution. We’re looking for a back and forth, where a compromise can be reached, and both people walk away understanding the other’s point of view and still respecting them.
We also need to be aware of our own perspectives and expectations that we are “forcing” onto our partner as we go into this dialog. We have an idea of how things should be, and without a full understanding of their behavior, we only see that it doesn’t align with ours and we want it to change. This is dangerous because it sets you up for failure every time they do something different than you, and it pins them in a corner because they didn’t even get a fair chance to explain themselves.
Manage Your Expectations
Terry Gaspard – a teacher, licensed therapist, and author of an article entitled 10 Reasons You Have to Stop Trying to Change Someone – calls out this type of reaction and reminds us that “your expectations impact the way you feel about your partner and his/her action.”
She goes on to explain that we need to be aware of our preconceived notions and our biases and that we cannot force that onto another person. It’s not only unrealistic, but it’s also unfair and can be incredibly damaging to both people and the relationship.
Be aware of your expectations, and keep in mind that your partner has them too to some degree. You wouldn’t want to be forced to do something just because they have certain expectations, and neither would they. Be fair and exercise patience as you discuss the issue.
So what’s the alternative – and one that most people wish for as the “magic bullet” to fix the issue fast and painless (at least for one person)?
Trying to Change the Person and Their Actions
This is where we get into some sticky situations. Yes, it would be easier if they just turned off the lights when they left the room. Yes, it would be easier if they replaced the trash bag, and absolutely it would be easier if they just carried their shoes back to their pre-selected “home” in the closet.
This is the EASIEST solution, but there are some issues with it:
- Who is it easier for? Don’t lie, the answer is “for you.” What is the other person going you think when you’re forcing them to change their behavior without a discussion?
- This is unrealistic. Even if they agree to change, they’ve been doing this for YEARS for all you know. You want to just snap your fingers and hope it changes overnight? Not likely.
The reality is that it’s going to take time to confront the situation, find a compromise, and finally for the person to make an effort to change their behavior.
But before they change their behavior, what happens if they like the way things are currently and don’t think it needs to change?
Before jumping to the conclusion that they are just selfish, let’s look at it from 2 perspectives:
If they DON’T agree to make the change, they are seemingly just ignoring the request of their partner (how selfish), but there may be a very important explanation behind why they do this. It may be beneficial for them in some way.
Apart from that, what if instead of demanding the change, a conversation takes place, and both people realize that to change the behavior (and help the person with the issue), it would end up inconveniencing or enraging the other person to an even higher degree and person with the original issue?
If they DO agree to make the change, maybe they’re doing it because they feel they are being demanded to change their behavior – and without any kind of input or discussion. Is that how you or your partner should feel in a relationship?
Clearly, in both scenarios, having the conversation (instead of just demanding a change of behavior) is going to give both people the full story, and that will better determine how to proceed with a compromise. It may mean that one person has to sacrifice a bit because it would otherwise be very problematic to the other. And sometimes, it’ll be the other way around.
So, Who Wins?
Well, if this situation is approached correctly, both win. Maybe they acknowledge that it’s an issue, and they attempt to change their behavior. But, if they slip don’t give them a hard time or badger them about it. Even if one person has to concede, maybe that person can also be a little happy because it shows that you guys are communicating well.
A scenario where both people win is what we’re looking for. Please realize that any other outcome could lead to resentment and bitterness on the other person’s part.
Not only should you make what bothers very clear, but also why it bothers you. Maybe they have no idea that it’s even an issue, or that it’s having a negative impact on you. And they may never know until you tell them. Don’t assume that they just don’t care.
Communication is Key
The take away from all of this is to always communicate the concerns that you have. As much as you want to insist they change their behavior for you it isn’t the right way to approach the situation. It denies the other person their freedom of action and simultaneously signals that if there is an issue, one person is going to settle it without a conversation. It’s not conducive to a long and loving relationship.
In the end, remember that this is someone you love and you want to spend the rest of your life with. The small things can add up over time, so make it a point to discuss them in a loving way. Quirks don’t break relationships but the way we handle them can.
The next time you’re feeling annoyed about something your partner does and you’re ready to explode – ask yourself these questions:
Don’t you want to be able to have open discussions with your partner?
Don’t you want to know that you are both working together toward common goals; even if one side has to sacrifice every now and then?
Don’t you want to be with this person because you enjoy it when they’re happy?