Don’t let small things obscure big-hearted love

Special to The TribuneAugust 6, 2013 

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Let’s face it. Our spouses can be annoying. They repeat bad, stale jokes. They discuss topics that bore us to sobs. They leave trails of unfinished projects scattered throughout the house. They’re chronically 15 minutes late.

These petty annoyances build up over time until they gain a life of their own. What’s seen as a sweet eccentricity when we’re dating becomes an insufferable flaw as anniversaries mount.

They also combine with other mannerisms to form clusters of nails-on-the-chalkboard irritants. One annoying habit is bad enough. The discomfort grows exponentially when bundling takes effect.

Not surprisingly, minor annoyances cause major problems in our marriages. We yell at our spouses, “Please stop that!” We lecture them about how they should change. We mope. We pout. We threaten. We secretly wish we’d married anyone else.

Some spouses promise they’ll do better. They don’t like making their loved ones sore.

Others lash back, making accusations of their own. “You’re not so perfect!” they rightfully hurl back.

Still, the habits continue unabated, as if they’re imbedded in our mates’ emotional hard drives.

Fortunately, most of us have functioning marriages. We’ve picked honest, hardworking husbands and wives. Our top-notch partners are committed to their families. They do their best to make their relationships work.

But do we tell them we think they’re awesome? Do we thank them for all they do?

No. Their prize-winning characteristics go unnoticed because we’re obsessed with what they’ve done wrong. We focus on the 2 percent that drives us crazy, ignoring the vast majority that deserves a gold star.

I urge folks who are frustrated with their mates to consider this scenario: Your spouse has been injured in a car crash. You’ve just received the terrible news. Do you rush to the hospital and start listing the petty annoyances? Or do you lean in close to the bed and whisper, “Baby, I love you. Please, please pull through!”

Don’t wait until this happens. Live each day as if it might. Be on your best behavior. Become the A+ spouse you’d like to be. Put your mate high atop the marital pedestal and start doting every way you can.

The minor irritations? They’ll still be there. You took them on when you said “I do.”

The key is to shrink their importance. Relegate them to the background. Allow them to play a minor role in your marriage so that love assumes center stage.

HOW TO OVERLOOK MINOR IRRITATIONS

• Accept your partner unconditionally. Marriage involves the whole person. You don’t pick and choose what you’ll keep. Some characteristics will be winners; others will be also-rans. That’s the way it is.

• Focus on your partner’s strengths. Your mate obviously has a lot to love. Make sure those characteristics are foremost in your thoughts. Everything else deserves a back seat.

• Laugh often. It’s easy to take things too seriously. Irritations are needlessly blown up to monumental proportions. Instead, use humor to defray a tense moment. Chuckle at the silliness of your predicament. Then move on to something more pleasant.

• Know that irritants are relative. An event that ruffles your feathers may not bother another person in the least. Recognize how your perceptions impact the problem. Perhaps you can try a different viewpoint.

• Count to 10. Pressure starting to climb? Take a deep breath. Start counting until you’ve chilled. No need to go ballistic over something petty.

• Problem-solve difficult areas. If there’s an ongoing issue, try to resolve it. Respectfully say, “I have trouble when…,” then work together to do better. Hopefully, you’ll reach an agreement. If you can’t, you may have to accept it.

• Get professional help. If minor irritations continue to wreak havoc in your marriage, seek counseling. Together you’ll learn strategies that improve communication and strengthen your bonds.

• Say “I love you” every day. There will always be annoying irritations. Don’t let them overshadow your underlying love. Express affection frequently so that the real message comes through loud and clear.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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