Easy on those buttons!

We all have them – little things that set us off. The toilet seat in the exclusive up position. The missing crescent wrench that was never returned to the toolbox. The carton of ice cream astoundingly ravaged of its chocolate chunks. These little annoyances can create big problems in a marriage. So before you and your spouse press each other’s buttons, get acquainted with the good and the bad of button-pushing and proceed with caution.

First, the good news. When buttons are pushed as lightly as someone presses a doorbell, it welcomes the sharing of silly intimacies. For instance, my husband loves it when I turn over and snuggle into my pillow late at night. As I get comfortable, he slides his hand under my ribs, pokes his fingers in my side and smiles as I reflexively roll away from the pain, right into his arms. While I don’t particularly enjoy being made to squirm, I confess I like his knowing a pet peeve that nobody else would.

On the other hand, the same intimacy that fosters a connection can also cause contention. When done carelessly, pressing buttons becomes more like a contest of Whac-A-Mole. During an argument in our first year of marriage, my husband pushed the only button he knew would stop me in my tracks: “You’re acting just like the toddler next door.”

Ouch.

I felt instantly alienated, and the ensuing silent treatment made him feel alone, too. We quickly learned that we nurture our relationship by guarding intimacy instead of exploiting it.

So does a loving marriage include pressing each other’s buttons? Absolutely, but not without healthy doses of wisdom and respect. Consider the following suggestions for lightly pressing each other’s buttons instead of smashing them with a mallet.

Take a break. The easiest way to lose that lovin’ feeling is to try to connect only by pushing buttons. Consider this: If something as nice as repeated flower deliveries eventually loses its impact, then the annoyance of constant button-pressing certainly loses any charm it may have originally had.

Weigh the costs. Just as Britney Spears endures a love-hate relationship with the paparazzi, so does my hubby with his camera-packing wife. Will I insist on aggravating him merely to record some colourful Kodak moments? Absolutely. Will I shout, “Say cheese!” just as an NFL referee is going to reveal a pivotal penalty? No way. You don’t have to be married for five years to realize that avoiding pet peeves during a major playoff is essential.

Check the motive. Take a minute to determine whether you’re bringing up an issue to foster closeness or to make a point. Having shared a house with me for years, my husband cheerfully contends that I’m a highly disorganized organizer. If he uses this characterization after searching for a long-lost phone bill, it’s no longer a comment on our intimacy; it’s an expression of his frustration.

Talk it out. How did I know that my husband recoiled at my seven-snooze-alarm wake-up ritual? Did he sigh every morning, roll his eyes or bang around the bathroom? No, he told me, nicely. If he’s not used to waking up to a beeping every seven minutes, I can appreciate that. Respectful communication and loving compromise solve button-pushing pitfalls.

Give up your rights. Sure, you have every right to toss your clothes on the bedroom floor. After all, it’s your house! But if a floor covered in dirty laundry drives your spouse nuts, you can make the loving choice to give up your right to be a slob. Avoiding your spouse’s buttons, even if it means changing old habits, is an act of love.

Do what it takes. I happen to be an excellent back-seat driver. I agree that my “harassment” suggests that my husband’s 20 years of driving experience aren’t going to get us home safely. But bad habits are hard to break. So I concentrate on closing my mouth in surrender to the powerlessness of the passenger seat – whatever it takes to keep the peace, even if it means chewing on a sock with my eyes closed.

I take comfort in knowing my husband can target my pet peeves like an expert archer. And I like how he generally uses this knowledge to enhance our closeness instead of bruising it. Now if he would just stop leaving me with one square of toilet paper at the most awkward times. . . .

Kim Washburn lightly presses her husband’s buttons in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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