Those Pesky Habits

Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr.

When was the last time your spouse annoyed you? Last week? Yesterday? An hour ago? If you’re a guy, the answer is probably “last week.” But if you’re a gal, it’s more likely to be “this very minute.” (Women usually find men more annoying than men find women.) Male or female, annoying habits can be unrelenting, day after day, month after month.

A habit is a behavior you repeat without much thought —the way you eat your cereal, take a shower and get into your car. If one of them bothers your spouse (e.g., smacking your lips when eating, slamming the car door), it’s an annoying habit.

If you convert some of your annoying habits into pleasing habits, you’ll get along better with your spouse and keep romance alive. But you’d be amazed how many annoying spouses just don’t get it.

Why are we so annoying?
Annoying spouses often try to convince me that they should be able to do whatever they please—that the objecting spouse should adjust to the other’s habits. But the issue is thoughtfulness. If a man wants to be considerate toward his wife, he should avoid doing something that’s thoughtless — and annoying.

You can turn your annoying habits into pleasing ones if you decide to be thoughtful. Protect your romantic relationship with the following helpful steps.

1. Identify and rate annoying habits. Begin by making a list of your annoying habits. Beside each annoying habit, enter a number between 1 and 10, indicating how intensely your spouse is annoyed (1 - barely annoying, 10 - extremely annoying). The numbers help identify the behavior that could do the most damage. You may need your spouse’s input.

Warning: This exercise runs a high risk for hurt feelings, so don’t attempt it if you’re not ready to hear your spouse’s thoughts on your habits. It’s easy to conclude that a long list of annoying habits reflects incurable incompatibility. But this first step is essential in improving compatibility.

If you and your spouse do this exercise together, be respectful. Describe gently why the habits are annoying. Remember most habits are not meant to be annoying, and they’re not right or wrong. They simply inhibit the potential of deeper intimacy.

2. Eliminate the easy ones first. A few habits can be overcome with a simple decision to stop doing them. They aren’t hard-wired into your brain and don’t provide much gratification. Try to check off one or more annoying habits you can easily overcome.

Most habits, however, take some time to change. You’ll have to practice and fight not to do them.

3. Select the three most annoying habits to overcome. Begin with those that have been rated as most annoying. If more than three have the highest rating, ask your spouse to choose the first three.

4. Determine how you got them. Think how each habit formed and why you keep doing it. This will help you create a plan to change. Consider these questions:

  • When you do this habit, how do you feel?
  • Have you ever tried to avoid this habit? If so, how did you do it?
  • What would make the elimination of this habit more likely?

You may simply be used to doing it that way. But with a little practice, you can get used to doing it another way.

5. Create a plan. Replace each annoying habit with a pleasing habit. Repeat the new behavior often. At first, you must think before you act, but eventually you’ll do it without much thought.

6. Measure your progress by checking with your spouse. Honesty is essential. Too often, the annoyed spouse underreports annoying incidents. This gives a false impression of success, which can undermine the process.

Most of what you do affects your husband or wife, so take your annoying habits seriously. When you learn to overcome them, you’ll have eliminated one of the most common ways that spouses lose their love for each other. And you’ll find that it’s just as easy to make your spouse happy as it is to make your spouse frustrated. Annoying habits are not inevitable.

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