Pickles sloshed onto the floor as my husband started to put the jar back in the fridge. “Why wasn’t this container closed?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders. “Sorry, I forgot,” I replied.
One of my strange habits — that I never realized was odd before marriage — is leaving lids open after using them. My reasoning behind that is that I may want to have seconds, so leaving the lid unscrewed saves time.
But that logic doesn’t exactly connect with my husband, who’s cleaned up his share of messes after grabbing containers with loose lids. While he would never say he was annoyed, I know it drives him nuts.
And vice versa for me, when he sets empty cereal boxes on the floor next to the trash can instead of breaking them down and placing them inside.
We all have our little quirks. And after being married for a while, some of our spouse’s patterns are no longer cute quirks but rather annoying habits.
For you, it may be how your spouse organizes the dishwasher, where they clip their toenails, how they drive or their lack of table manners. Whatever it is, figuring out how to cope so that you don’t become highly critical of your spouse is important.
Vocalize your feelings in a respectful way
If you never tell your spouse how you feel, they’ll likely keep repeating the same thing until you resent them, and they’ll have no idea why. But when you tell your spouse that you’re bothered, make sure to say it in a kind way.
As Dr. Gail Saltz on the “Today” show blog suggests,
Sometimes you don’t say what exactly annoys you, and the other person just finds you grumpy and critical. So be specific: “I think you are fab, but when I hear you biting your nails it grates on me. I know it’s a hard habit to stop, but could you try?
Ephesians 4:15 says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (emphasis added).
How you share your feelings matters.
Don’t nag or demand
Proverbs 27:15 says, “a continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike.”
A constant “drip, drip, drip” or nagging does not build up a home but rather damages it. Instead of relentlessly telling your spouse what to do (or not do), be patient. Remember that change takes time. Give grace. Wait awhile before mentioning the topic again.
There are plenty of human habits that Jesus isn’t fond of. But despite all our mistakes, He laid down His life so that we could live. With that perspective, we should be willing to go a little further to love our spouse when their annoying habits irritate us.
Remember the big picture
Keep minor things in the minor leagues. For example, where he clips his nails won’t alter the big picture.
Daphne de Marneffe from Parents says,
Obviously, turning every irritating behavior into a target for improvement is a losing proposition, since no one wants to live in an atmosphere of constant criticism. In some couples I’ve seen, such nit-picking has led one partner to ask the other, “Do you even like me?” Consider which bothersome behaviors end up truly compromising feelings of trust or closeness in your relationship. Those are the ones that merit your focus.
Also, look at the annoying habit in light of eternity. One of my professors once said, “In marriage, you shouldn’t die on every hill, only the hill closest to the cross.”
Does not having the dishwasher organized the way you want truly matter years down the road? When you get to heaven, will Jesus say, “Whew, I’m so glad you finally convinced her to place the short bowls on the top rack.”? No, He’ll care more about the way you loved her and communicated well than about your getting your way.
I’ve realized that in the end, if an empty cereal box is next to the trash can instead of inside it, life goes on.
Learn to value your differences
Your and your spouse’s differences can make you stronger together. A husband who’s naturally messy doesn’t have to view his wife’s organization as a wedge coming between them. Instead, he can learn from her and grow. He can try it her way.
Likewise, a husband’s desire to budget doesn’t have to ruin the fun of his wife’s shopping whims. Instead, it can help her better understand how much she can spend and still have leftover for other things. His budgeting skills can help her improve instead of annoying her if she allows them to.
Let each one teach the other; but let each attitude temper the other’s. The thing which you do not know by nature is not valueless. Be willing to learn it. And the thing which you do naturally know, but which your spouse does not, is not the only good in the world, proving him a nincompoop for ignorance. Take patient time to reveal it to him. Be glad that your marriage has two eyes instead of one, and let both of you see through both of them. With two eyes wide open, the marriage can see depth. It gains perspective.
— Walter Wangerin Jr., As for Me and My House
Ultimately, you can’t control if your spouse gets on your nerves, but you can choose how you respond. Your attitude about your spouse’s annoying habits can make all the difference in the outcome. Be humble, kind and willing to change. Value the qualities that make you different and respect your spouse’s perspective. Most of all, think about how Jesus will view your manner. What will He say when you reach eternity?