We’ve all been there – he’s the perfect guy, except… Some of these complaints are relatively minor; he throws his sweaty workout underwear on top of your bath towel, or he leaves the razor stubble all over the bathroom sink without rinsing it down. And some are much more serious, such as infidelity, physical abuse, or substance abuse. As far as the second category goes, as long as marriage and children are not yet involved, it’s best to walk away and stay away. If a man cheats, it does not get better with time; in fact it usually gets worse. If he’s done it once, and you stay with him, he knows he can get away with it and it will most likely happen again when the opportunity presents itself. And as far as both physical abuse and substance abuse, well, they’re both best left to the professionals. Unless he’s actively seeking counseling or rehabilitation for his problem, this too will only get worse with time and will bring with it a lot of heartache. But for the majority of us, it’s those little complaints that fall under the first category – traits in your partner that you find irritating or annoying – that we want to know what to do about.
So what do you do when the guy you’re with is perfect in every way – he’s attentive, not only remembers your birthday but your families birthdays, he treats you with respect and kindness, is very romantic – but he has one or two traits that you just can’t take. Maybe at home he’s a messy marvin or clutterbug – he leaves his clothes lying around, has stacks of papers and junk mail around, and his sink is perpetually full of dirty dishes, and you’re more of the neat and orderly type. This is where things get really tricky.
This is the type of situation that occurs in nearly every relationship. There’s no such thing as the perfect person. Even if (and I should say especially if) the other person is just like us, there will be things we don’t like, because there are things we don’t like about ourselves. In fact, it’s usually the things that we most don’t like about ourselves that we readily dislike in others. Without getting too deep into the psychology of it all, suffice it to say that in relationships, like in pretty much all of life, there is no Shangri-la. There are always trade-offs. The question you should be asking is “Will I grow to love this trait, or at least tolerate it?”
The bottom line is that whatever traits you find irritating or annoying in your partner, go ahead and make the assumption that they’re not going to change. It’s a very good assumption, since this is nearly always the case. People will only change if they’re driving the change themselves. It’s the old saying: you can’t change others, you can only change yourself. The other side of this is that it is possible to change your own thinking about the annoyance. If you can learn to look at it as a loveable trait (not always easy to do, but possible), you will find yourself much happier. It can also help to look at yourself and know that you have some really annoying traits as well – and one of those traits may just be nagging other people about their bad habits.
Of course, you can always try to talk to your guy about the behavior that you find irritating, but just know that you’ll be treading on thin ice. If you decide to go this route, make sure that you pick a time when you’re not angry, irritated or annoyed – otherwise it will not be received well, and will most likely turn into a bitter argument with lots of hurt feelings. Do it at a time when you’re calm, cool and collected, and beforehand remind yourself of all of the loveable traits that made you fall for this nearly perfect guy to begin with. Then, when you approach him with the request to change his habit, start out softly, with a compliment of some sort, and follow with a statement about the behavior that reflects how it makes you feel. For example, you might say “Sweetie, I love the way you’re always looking out for me and taking care of me, you’re so considerate. I wanted to let you know that I feel really stressed when the sink is piled full of dishes for a long time. I was wondering if you could help me with that by putting your dishes in the dishwasher right away. Could you do that for me? It would really help to lower my stress levels, and I think I’d be a lot happier.”
As I said, you’ll need to be treading very lightly here, and know that, depending on your particular guy, this could still erupt into an argument with him feeling hurt, getting defensive, and maybe even turning it back onto you with a criticism that you weren’t expecting. If this happens, your best bet is to gracefully back down and table it. Then re-assess again whether or not you think you could live with it. Even if the conversation goes well, and he changes his behavior, it’s likely it will only be temporary. Habits are very hard to break, particularly when you’re doing it for someone else, and essentially entail rewiring/reprogramming the brain. If you do see some positive change after your discussion, don’t forget to sweetly acknowledge his effort with a hug and a thank you – this will go a long way toward making the change permanent. If he later slips back into his old patterns, you can try gently reminding him, but know that nagging a partner can have some of the most damaging effects of any behavior on a relationship.
While it’s theoretically possible to change your guy’s irritating habits gently and kindly, it’s very difficult and could very well put you on a destructive path that can severely damage your relationship. A better bet is to find a way to see the “lovability” in his minor flaws, remind yourself of your own flaws and bad habits you’d like to change in yourself when you encounter his, and spend your energy trying to change those instead of trying to fix his. It also helps to keep a mental list of three things that you love about him, and check those off in your mind whenever you notice his less than desirable traits.
In the end, you have to choose between loving your guy unconditionally, which means with his annoying flaws and all, or walking away. A big part of being in a deep emotional relationship with another person means accepting them for what they are – the good, the bad and the ugly. Then focus on the good.
If you can find it in yourself to do that, you’ll truly be a richer person for it. Richer in love.