I know that when my husband leaves the toilet seat up and my ass cheeks plummet straight into the bowl at two a.m., or when he forgets to close the cabinet door in the kitchen and I slam my head into it, he’s not being passive-aggressive. He’s just forgetful. I repeat those words to myself as a mantra, silently seething. He’s just forgetful. He’s just forgetful.
But when the toilet seat and cabinet door faux pas become part of our everyday domestic lives, these transgressions cross the line from petty annoyances to primary PET PEEVES.
What exactly is a pet peeve? Broken down, the phrase qualifies as an oxymoron. After all, which irritant is your favorite? So, let’s be frank. A pet peeve is really an annoying behavior that occurs often enough that it becomes a conscious aggravation. And, if you stop and think for, say, a nanosecond, you can probably come up with a few partner pet peeves of your own.
I posed this question to twenty or thirty of my closest friends: Can you name one or two pet peeves that you harbor about your spouse or partner? My email account was flooded with responses. Strangely, I haven’t found a single friend at a loss for peeves. In fact, we’re alarmingly peeve-ful.
I’ve come up with several categories for these nagging personal peeves, ranging from hygiene (think creative nasal clearing techniques or toenail clipping in bed) to table manners (consider the cereal slurper or pre-dinner grazer) and entertainment (remote control commandeering or stashing empty liquor bottles). But some peeves defy classification.
“He’s an expert on everything,” reports one friend. “He’s the best doctor, electrician, mechanic. He knows everything about everything. And what he doesn’t already know, he researches on the Internet.”
Another offers: “He pushes the thermostat up when he thinks I’m not looking even though he knows I’m always sweltering. Can’t he just put another sweater or two on top of his parka?”
Then there are laundry grievances: “He leaves coins, sales receipts and tissues in his pants pockets so either the machines make horrible noises or there are paper fragments all over the dryer.”
Grooming: “He leaves food on his mouth when he’s eating. Instead of wiping it off after one, two, or even three bites, he eats half his plate before removing the gobs of food from his face.”
Housekeeping: “He leaves his wet towel on mine and never closes the cabinet door where the trash is stored.” Or: “He loses the car key fobs all the time and I have to search through his whole wardrobe to find them.”
Sleeping: “He never, ever has trouble sleeping – anywhere! He falls asleep every night in about four minutes. That really pisses me off!”
Then there’s snoring: “It’s rhythmic for about ten seconds, building to a crescendo that resembles what I imagine a mating bull might sound like. It’s terrifying!”
Between feeling peevish in public (don’t get me started on the dog owner in my neighborhood who doesn’t understand that Great Dane poop must be scooped, without exception) and feverishly peevish in private, I’m in a nearly constant state of apoplexy. So I turned to psychotherapist, author and relationship expert Christina Steinorth-Powell* for help in diffusing pet peeve problems. Here’s her advice:
1) Don’t raise your pet peeve in public. Keep your observations confined to private moments.
2) Acknowledge what you do like. Use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior rather than criticizing the bad.
3) Consider if the behavior is a pet peeve or a deal-breaker. Weigh what you can live with versus what might be causing you serious distress.
4) Contemplate possible solutions. Be creative. Come up with some options to help diffuse ongoing problem situations or habits.
5) Have a dialogue about peeves you might both be nursing. Start a conversation about behaviors you both might change.
6) Chat at the right time. Choose a quiet moment to discuss your tensions.
So the next time my beloved leaves the lights on in the fourteen-foot ceiling long after he’s left the room, or throws his trash in the direction of the rubbish can rather than inside it, I’ll take a deep breath, embrace at least one or two of the aforementioned tips, and remember that the man who bought me a condominium in Naples, FL, during the coldest winter on record can’t be all bad.
*Christina Steinorth-Powell, MFT, psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships, http://christinasteinorth.com.