Maintaining a happy marriage requires communication, team work, flexibilityin the bedroom and in the world outside of it. This post is about none of that. It is about the little things. The tiny transgressions that work so slowly to undermine the foundation of your marriage that you don’t even know that they are eroding things. If you look out for these little things you might just avoid the way the upset can upset your relationship.

When you choose share your life, bed, car, and dishwasher with someone else there are four eyes, four hands and two ways to do everything. Here are the steps to take to make sure the most irritating irritants don’t derail you.

  1. couple fighting over transgressionsFigure out what is happening most frequently, let go of the outliers. The list of things that we do that irritate each other is pretty long. When things are going well we let almost all of them drift away. Here is a sampling of what we do to annoy each other. How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, which beer glasses can be on the open shelf, how we load the car for travel, which route we drive to the airport, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes…and so many more. The first step we took it cease our squabbling was to ignore the things that aren’t regular problems. The route to the airport, the beer glasses, and loading the car for travel got shelved (along with the beer glasses with black font only.)  What’s left on the list? How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, which beer glasses can be on the open shelf, how we load the car for travel, which route we drive to the airport, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes.
  2. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.52.37 AMBack off the other person’s territory. In our case my laptop (Steve hates the tabs) and his bedside table (it really is his space) get cut from the list. In a co-joined life we really need to be able to carve out and control some things. Laptops and bedside tables are two of them. What’s left on the list? How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes.
  3. toilet transgressionsUse the toilet seat test. At first glance it seems anti-feminist that the default toilet seat position is the one that favors the woman. Why should the ladies have all the love in the lav? A deeper dive reveals the toilet seat test…the cost to one party (sitting in cold pee) is much greater than the other (lifting the seat with a single finger). In the case of yelling for each other’s attention (or the kids’) it is Steve that suffers more. I sit on my butt and scream. If he is closer than I think I hurt his already damaged hearing. In this case a blow to his health seriously trumps the cost of me standing up and finding my family.
  4. Keys.Understand where the other person is coming from. Celebrate the way the quirks improve your life.  The fact that he wanders the aisles of the grocery store as if he is seeing each item for the first time drives me batty. I am impatient. He is fastidious. Yet, since Steve does 70% of the shopping and 90% of the cooking in our house I have decided to let him camp out in the grocery store as long as he likes. It may mean I have to bide my time, but at least I have great food to eat while I am waiting. Steve likes to drop his sunglasses and keys on the end of the kitchen counter as he walks in. It is simple. I spend a lot of time making our kitchen look good (after all I manage the beer glasses carefully). After 200 or so times I asked him if he would drop his stuff somewhere else because a clean counter is particularly important to my mental health. Because he loves me, and secretly loves a clean counter, his keys land on the shelf near the side door.
  5. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.55.24 AMWhat works for the world, or the household. Sometimes a greater issue can break a stalemate. I like it light at night. Steve likes it dark. Our feelings on the issue are about equal. So the planet wins. As for the mail…I like to stash it in the office out of sight (remember the clean counters…) However, the bills sometimes went unpaid and the piles began to look like Pisa. So the mail stays out and gets dealt with… As for the dishes it is a case of fast versus fastidious again. I like to cram things in and run it. Steve likes to solve the dishwasher like a puzzle. After having to handwash plates post wash cycle I have pretty much seen the benefit of Steve’s method. Plus I like puzzles.
  6. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.58.42 AMGive in to the passion. If one person cares a whole hell of a lot for no reason and the other person cares only a little bit the crazy person should win. There will be NO scented trash bags in our house. They make me sick.
  7. Listen to reason. Steve folds the shirts in half…then deals with the arms then in half again. I deal with both arms then make a square shape. After years of arguing for the aesthetics of my way…and both of us folding his shirts one way and mine the other I finally admitted that his way was faster. Don’t tell.
  8. couple beyond transgressionsMake it a win-win. Steve likes to drive with the tire pressure displayed on the dashboard. Perhaps it is because he has run over the same cub three times and had to replace six tires as a result. There is just no saying. I prefer just about any other display. So we just split it. When I drive I look at something quirky…like mileage. Steve can spend as much time on PSI as the NFL and I keep my mouth shut. Mostly.  I’m calling this a win-win. On off days it might feel like a lose lose. But isn’t it easier to push a button to switch the display than push each other’s button?

Guess what I am getting him for his stocking this Christmas?

What are your triggers? Which ones can you ditch?

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Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

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