I would describe myself as neurotic. I like things neat and organized. If you were to ask me the specific content of any drawer in my house, I could identify every item. My boyfriend, however, is chaotic. As I write this, he’s running late for work after losing the loose SIM card he left somewhere in the apartment last night. And now he’s fishing a pen out of the heaving plastic carrier bag he — for some reason — stores all his stationary in (he calls it his “pencil case”).
You can imagine, then, that there’s a number of small, arguably insignificant things that we come to loggerheads about. These include (from my perspective only): leaving his wet towel on the bedroom floor, leaving the plates dirtier than he found them and being incapable of waking up in the morning, despite everyday having a crisis about waking up late.
While I’ve learned to accept many of these tiny annoyances — as my boyfriend has with me — and even find them endearing (aww, late again!), there are others I’m incapable of ignoring. But would life be easier if I just stopped caring about them? Or, as they say, “picked my battles” more wisely?
This question is frequently considered in the “relationship hacks” corner of Reddit. The general consensus appears to be that you should, as one redditor said, “learn to let shit go.” Specifically, as if reading my mind, they added: “He always leaves his wet towel on the bathroom floor? Just deal with it. Get over the little shit and you’ll be way better off.”
Others believe you should talk about it instead of letting resentment grow, and find a way to compromise. One redditor shared their “hack” for managing the differing tolerances for mess in their relationship — specifically, this person’s wife likes the house tidy, while the redditor doesn’t mind it being “a bit cluttered.” “She deals with that by getting over it or cleaning it,” they wrote, “and I try to keep it from getting too cluttered. In turn, I do things she hates, like taking out the trash and fixing or building things around the house. It’s a give and take.”
But some ask: At what point does not sweating the small stuff “turn into being a total pushover”?
“If the consistent annoyances are actually small, it’s a good idea to remind yourself of all the other small and big things that are good about your partner,” says relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves. “Perhaps your partner never puts the toilet seat down, but they’re a good parent to your child. Thinking in a balanced way is important because when we’re annoyed about the small things, we tend to forget about the bigger picture. Keep the bigger picture in mind.”
But, Neves adds, if something is particularly important to you and is having a negative effect on your own wellbeing — he gives the example of a person snoring and keeping their partner up at night — then you should address it. “The best way to broach a difficult topic is by owning your statement and starting sentences with ‘I’ rather than ‘you,’” explains Neves. “The ‘you’ sentences tend to sound like pointing fingers, criticism or blaming. The ‘I’ sentence means that you fully take the responsibility that the annoyance is yours, and not theirs.”
“Also, it’s important that you don’t make sweeping statements as we often do when we’re annoyed,” he continues, “such as, ‘You never do the dishes and it pisses me off.’ Instead, you might want to say, in a calm and compassionate tone: ‘I feel frustrated when I notice that the dishes are left dirty. It’s important to me that we can be a team with this and take turns to wash the dishes. How can we make this happen?’”
One redditor agreed with this, citing several arguments they’ve had with their partner over things that have been “bottled up until breaking point.” They added: “You can’t expect someone to change if they don’t know what to change. They’ll love you all the more if they know that you’re trying to build a better life for you both.”
But, if the annoyance is so tiny that you don’t even want to bring it up, is it possible to stop getting irritated by it? “I’m not sure it’s possible to never get annoyed at the little things,” Neves tells me. “We’re humans, sometimes we get annoyed!” As well as remembering to keep the bigger picture in mind, he points to an “unconventional” trick to eradicate your ire. “Imagine your partner not being in your life,” he says. “If you imagined they died, you might actually suddenly feel very appreciative of them — that can help with letting go of the small stuff and remembering all the good stuff [about having] them in your life.”
Alternatively, as many redditors pointed out, you “can’t have relationship problems when there is no relationship.”
For me, I guess I’ll start turning a blind eye to the wet towel — at least mine will be dry.