Life up close in Covid-19 lockdown can be a real challenge. We all have little quirks or ways of doing things that are tolerable in small doses. Like the sound I make when my throat feels itchy! Or chewing gum too loudly. It could be clothes on the floor, leaving cupboard doors open, bodily functions, leaving the toothpaste uncovered – you name it, we all have them.
However, the challenge of lockdown is that we are now in each other’s space 24⁄7 and after a while, things begin to grate.
The way we tend to respond to these irritations and annoying habits is interesting. If we do something irritating or annoying, we have an explanation for it based on the context – really sorry but it’s because of my throat. But when your partner does their thing once too often, it’s because of a serious character flaw. Psychologists have a term for this – fundamental attribution error. Basically, the assumption is that we are good and any little annoying habit we have can be justified by the circumstances, but they are fundamentally flawed. Beware the temptation to assassinate your partner’s character!
Talk openly about the things that you each find irritating and try to agree where changes can be made. Above all, be patient with each other. We assume people do things intentionally to irritate or disrespect us but most times these habits are subconscious and done without any thought. To survive and thrive through lockdown, we need to be able to talk about them and mutually adjust to make life at home more peaceful.
But there is another level of irritation that we can cause subconsciously, simply because we are wired differently and have different thresholds of patience for things — like mess for example.
This is what we discovered when we first worked together in the early years of our marriage. Jon is very ordered and structured with great attention to detail, which means he has a low level of tolerance for mess and easily feels irritated or agitated if things are not organised. I am more creative and “big picture”. Our different wiring was reflected in our desks. Jon’s was organised with clear working space. Mine was covered in piles of paper – my own creative chaos that made sense to me. The problem is we only had one computer which was on Jon’s desk and when we swapped desks, he would start reorganising my papers so he could work at my desk – which didn’t go down too well with me. We had some rocky moments for sure, but one of the things we learned is that we were each better at different things and that we needed to give each other “space and grace” to be who we each are.
This also meant recognising that what might be manageable for me could be overwhelming for him or vice versa.
Left-over food in the fridge is another pet peeve – I am happy to work through the jumble, Jon prefers things labelled and organised in each freezer drawer. So now we know how to cover for each other to make sure nobody feels stressed out unnecessarily. I look after the food and he looks after all the forms and legal documents that need tidy handwriting in what I think are ridiculous little boxes. Instead of criticising, and judging each other, we need to recognise individual strengths and patience thresholds and support each other through the challenges. We all have habits and quirks that annoy, and no matter what it feels like, our habits are as annoying to them as theirs are to us.
The more we take the time to understand each other, the less easily irritated we will become and the more we can support each other through the inevitable challenges of lockdown. This is the essence of Habit #1: BE CURIOUS, not critical, from The 4 Habits of All Successful Relationships.
REFLECT & CONNECT
- What habit(s) do you have that your partner complains about?
- How have you responded to this?
- What is it that your partner does that you find really irritating?
- What do you find yourself thinking when they do it?
Discussion as a couple:
- What habits do you each find annoying and how can you both adjust behaviours to ease tension and frustration?
- What different strengths have you noticed in each other?
- What are the things that overwhelm each of you?
- How can you cover for each other and support each other more during lockdown?
In what ways are you and your partner different? The Toucan Conflict Module helps you identify your similarities and differences, the things that lead to arguments, as well as those things that make you stronger as a couple. The module also has practical relationship tools for handling any disagreements better.