8 niggly things that can wreck relationships

Most of us assume that it’s the big issues that drive a couple apart. But those minor irritations can all add up, says relationships expert Andrew G Marshall. Here he lists the eight danger zones.
It's the little things in a relationship that niggle us the most - expert.
Photo / Thinkstock
It's the little things in a relationship that niggle us the most - expert. Photo / Thinkstock

Not paying attention

He's nodding his head as you go through which child needs to be where and when, but you know his mind is elsewhere. Or maybe you're guilty of constantly checking your phone when he's trying to tell you something.

Why we think it's okay: We tell ourselves it will only take a second to reply to a text and our partner will understand. After all, we've got the whole evening together.

Why it's dangerous: By not paying attention, we are giving a clear message: 'I'm not that interested in you, and these other things are more important.' It is a far cry from when you first fell in love and your whole day revolved around each other. People think marriages end because of fundamental differences but more often it's down to this loss of connection.

Turn it around: Guard your time together by setting up rules about mobile-phone and screen etiquette. What is the latest time in the evening that you will take calls? When should you switch off your phones? Set aside a regular time to discuss important events and issues. In this way, you can give each other your full attention rather than talking on the run.

Imposing your rules

It could be your partner complaining about you leaving stuff around, or he's fed up because you're always on his back about the state in which he leaves the bathroom.

Why we think it's okay: If only they would listen to reason and abide by a few rules, everything would be fine.

Why it's dangerous: Everybody has different ideas about tidiness but it is easy to think you are right and he is wrong, and therefore either dismiss his opinions or punish him (by being irritable or critical).

Turn it around: Instead of defending your position, which will encourage your partner to do the same, look to set up a trade. For example, you won't leave your shoes in the hall if he cleans the bathroom sink. In this way, there's something in it for both of you.

Jollying along

When you're feeling stressed and worried, he tells you to 'put it out of your mind'. Alternatively, you're angry with him - for something quite justifiable - and he's trying to get round you with jokes or compliments.

Why we think it's okay: If somebody doesn't lighten the mood, the weekend will be ruined.

Why it's dangerous: You are not taking each other's feelings seriously.

Turn it around: Rather than trying to quash your partner's emotions, try these two strategies. First, ask questions so that you can step into his shoes and understand. Second, acknowledge his mood: 'I can see you're anxious, angry, upset...' Our fear is this will encourage a further outburst, but these feelings - once acknowledged - burn themselves out. If it's you whose feelings are being denied, acknowledge your partner's positive motive and explain: 'I know you want to move on but I'm still feeling anxious, angry...'

Interrupting

There are a thousand and one things on your mind and you feel you simply have to get them all out before you forget any of them.

Why we think it's okay: He has always liked your bubbly, outgoing personality.

Why it's dangerous: If you don't let him finish his sentence, you don't know if he's going to tell you something trivial or share his deepest and darkest fear. In my counselling room, many women complain that their husbands keep their feelings to themselves but then keep interrupting to explain more about theirs.

Turn it around: When you're tempted to say something, bite your tongue and nod your head to encourage him to open up, or ask him a question to draw him out. We often get to the important issues through the trivial. If you really do have a lot on your mind, make notes ahead of talking to your partner. This will not only be an aide-mémoire but concentrate your thoughts.

Wanting immediate, undivided attention

You're washing up and your partner asks you to come and look at something on the computer NOW! Alternatively, you're following him around asking questions while he's trying to do something, or asking him to put stuff up in the loft while he's busy changing the lightbulb you've been complaining about.

Why we think it's okay: We're just trying to tick things off our 'to do' list.

Why it's dangerous: You're effectively saying, 'My priorities are more important than yours.' You can also come across as needy and that's not an attractive quality.

Turn it around: It is easy to spot when your partner does this to you but harder when you do it to him. Generally, couples are equally prone to this nasty habit so I encourage my clients to make a joke whenever they spot it - in themselves or each other - and then discuss whether the request is really that urgent or the other person's current occupation that uninterruptible.

Keeping you waiting or obsessing about punctuality
You're supposed to be leaving at half past but he thinks that's the cue to put down what he's doing and start to get ready. Alternatively, perhaps it's you who is fed up with being harried and hurried.

Why we think it's okay: On-time people say, 'It's rude to keep other people waiting.' On the other hand, their partners mean to be punctual but something always happens: 'I was about to leave but...' or 'The traffic was terrible.'

Why it's dangerous: It increases the stress of going anywhere together, which can tip over into criticising driving or blaming each other for your upset.

Turn it around: It is easy to get in a rut where you treat punctuality as a global issue rather than on a case-by-case basis. For example, your friends won't mind if you're slightly late for a dinner party (because they will probably be running late too) but you need to be on time for a train.

Slobbing out

He might be talking with his mouth full, putting his feet on the coffee table or not shaving on Sunday. Meanwhile, you're still in your pyjamas at lunchtime, and some of the items in your underwear drawer are looking distinctly grey.

Why we think it's okay: After the hard work of courtship, shouldn't you be able to relax and be yourself?

Why it's dangerous: Each of these minor irritations is a passion killer and makes it harder to switch from the everyday to the sensual.

Turn it around: Build romance back into your life by using the power of three. Collecting him from the station is just a nice thing to do, but if there's a bottle of his favourite wine chilling in the fridge and a delicious dinner in the oven when you get home, that's romantic because it demonstrates that you've gone the extra mile and you care.

Bickering

This ranges from mild criticism and making 'helpful suggestions', such as 'I wouldn't use that knife to cut that', to snide remarks. Meanwhile, your partner returns the general negativity with interest.

Why we think it's okay: It's not like we're having huge rows, and doesn't every couple do it?

Why it's dangerous: Bickering not only poisons the atmosphere but drains all the fun from your relationship.

Turn it around: Bickering is generally a sign that there are unresolved issues and each partner feels taken for granted. Perhaps you feel that he's not pulling his weight round the house or he feels he's working hard to pay the bills yet gets little thanks. So ask yourself, 'What is this really about?' For example, bickering about the best place to keep the bin bags could be a struggle for control. Once you know what the disagreement is really about, you have a chance of sorting it.

* Andrew G Marshall is a marital therapist and author of I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How to Childproof Your Marriage.

- DAILY MAIL

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