Ladies and gentlemen, if the movies Gone Girl and This is 40 have taught me anything, it’s that there are two types of marriages: the kind where you can joke about putting your spouse in a wood chipper, and the kind where you can’t. If you’re not sure which type you have, you definitely have the Gone Girl marriage, and I suggest disguising yourself and hiding in Outer Mongolia.
I have also learned that 90% of maintaining a healthy partnership with another human being relies upon having a sense of humor. The other 10% is split between self-awareness, communication, patience, acceptance, and liking the same breakfast taco joint. But, the sense of humor thing seriously goes a long way, especially when you’re making your way through all of life’s ups and downs. It’s easy to get mired in the downs if you don’t have laughter and good tacos.
And there are a lot of stressful downs sometimes, right? That’s life.
I don’t even think the most destructive relationship stressors are all major league like illness, infidelity, finances, addiction, or in-laws. They’re not all related to children or pets with chronic puking problems.
Some of the most trying times in relationships originate from little annoyances like loud food chewing, inability to put shoes where they belong, poor toothpaste etiquette, incessantly talking about The Walking Dead, and repeatedly uploading photos of your spouse to social media against his wishes: things that are harmless but chip away at your patience and sanity until the cure is finding humor in the situation or expiring in a raging head explosion. (I heard a lady from Iowa actually died in 1973, during the hottest summer on record, all because her spouse threw his pants on the floor—just three inches shy of the laundry basket—for the 87th time, and she got so angry and sweaty that her body exploded like a piñata right in front of him.)
If you don’t learn how to maintain perspective about petty grievances, you’ll never get through the truly rough patches in a relationship.
But, ugh, those petty grievances!
I’ll tell you right now that my loving husband is impressive (A PUBLIC BRAG GETS ME 1,000 BONUS MARRIAGE POINTS, GOOD FOR ONE FREE BACKRUB COUPON). He is helpful, thoughtful, proactive, intelligent, patient, empathetic, attentive, and he would also have me add, “very handsome.”
But does he eat peanut M&Ms in such a manner that I want to rip his face off? YES.
Does this say more about me than him? Sure. Do I have time to go back and determine the origin of my anger so that I can work through it and be a better partner? No, because I have children I’m too busy screwing up to allow myself time for self-reflection. But, I am aware that I get upset over little things. I’m also aware that this is standard human behavior. I know I do 1,000 minor things that irk my husband as well. That’s part of being in a close partnership with another person. Shoot, I figure if you don’t have any trivial annoyances, then you probably don’t know your spouse very well or don’t care enough about him/her to pay attention.
Rolling your eyes at something petty your partner does will never end. You just have to make sure your annoyance doesn’t grow into flaming rage that spirals out of control, igniting any other sensitive relationship issues.
Communication solves this best. Get that issue out in the open and chat about your frustration. Don’t let it fester and then seep into and exacerbate other unrelated issues. Explain why your eyes are rolling like a Vegas slot machine and present the matter as unemotionally as possible. For instance, do not say, “When you leave your crap all over the house expecting the invisible housekeeper to pick up after you, it makes me want to stab you.” A better approach would be to say, “I just returned home and see that the milk, butter, and mayonnaise have been sitting out since the lunch you made seven hours ago, and I’m concerned it may have all gone bad. Would you like me to put it back in the fridge, or would you like to do it yourself (before I stab you)?”
Be patient. Some behaviors take time to correct once attention has been brought to them. Some behaviors, much like Mariah Carey’s wardrobe, are super resistant to change and there for the long haul, no matter how cringe-inducing they are.
Accept this. Accept the behavior (as long as it’s not personally violating or serious) and that this beautiful person you love will be leaving the lids to everything in the house only partially screwed back on so that 85% of the time you pick up a bottle or jar it will crash to the ground, spilling contents all over your bathroom and kitchen until you both die holding hands in a couple’s grave (surrounded by various caps and lids and broken containers).
Draw a picture of this couple’s grave, sign it, frame it, and give it to your spouse over a romantic breakfast of East L.A. tacos at Las Palapas. Then be self-aware enough to know that some horribly obnoxious, trivial behavior you engage in has probably been simultaneously illustrated by your spouse and will also be exchanged with you. Be humble enough to laugh together (for surely you’re both horrible illustrators on top of being reciprocally annoying).
Hopefully, you and your partner will continue to communicate, gain perspective, and recognize that these piddly behaviors can also be seen as endearing character traits, not flaws. If, as a couple, you can turn things around so that you both resolve to be aware of frustrating behaviors, with the understanding that you may not have the ability to abate or cut them out entirely but that you’ll do your best, it will make it easier to celebrate all the reasons you and your partner truly enjoy each other, for better and for annoying.
In my opinion, it’s healthier to have a shared inside joke about the petty frustrations you have with one another in your relationship. This way, a stink eye or a sarcastic remark that previously would have been made with malicious or passive aggressive intent can instead be made humorous to diffuse an otherwise touchy situation. And, if after going through all the above-mentioned steps you can say to your partner, “Your leaving 17 pairs of shoes all over the house makes me want to kiss your freaking face off,” and have your partner respond by grabbing you in a passionate embrace and then picking up all the shoes, then you’ve graduated the program in my book.
*Never take my advice as anything researched or substantiated. I just write what the voices in my head tell me to, and I’m not all that bright. I didn’t even know how to order coffee until Amy enlightened me.