You need to stop tolerating your spouse.

Jenna’s* husband scrapes his plate at the end of a meal to get every last edible drop onto his fork, then into his mouth. At first, she thought it was a one-off thing – he must’ve really liked that stir-fry. But three years and 3,285 bone-china-chilling meals later, his habit is really getting on her nerves. So much so, that she looks forward to meals without him! Worse yet, to avoid conflict she tries to tolerate the pet peeve.

What Jenna may not know is her little annoyance – her emotional paper cut – could turn into a lethal marital wound if not dealt with properly. If she doesn’t open up about the issue and instead tries to bury her irritation, then, marriage experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott explain, these negative feelings have a "high rate of resurrection. They pop up or even explode when we least expect them."

Yikes! Do you want the pet peeves you’ve pent up inside you to explode?

No? Then read on for tips to stop gripes from ruining your marriage.

When a pet peeve is anything but cute and cuddly

Often, frustration or irritation is caused by someone violating your expectations. Your wife, for example, could expect you to put the toilet seat down. And when she finds it up the first time, she is ever-so-slightly perturbed. But she smiles, lowers the seat and goes about her merry way.

But that’s just the beginning.

University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham writes that annoying behaviours, or "social allergens," cause slight discomfort or mild irritation – at first. But as with physical allergens, the trigger becomes increasingly irksome with continued exposure. The negative reaction grows stronger and stronger each time the allergen is present. And then, when your wife spies through bleary eyes one seatless toilet in the middle of the night too many, cue hypersensitive reaction!

At this point, the annoyance isn’t just a peeve; it’s a pet peeve! In his Everyday Relationships podcast, author and speaker Greg Smalley defines these irritants as a "minor complaint or irritation that’s more annoying to you than anyone else." That makes this one pet you won’t mind letting run out the front door!

Admit it, then accept or address it

Song of Solomon 2:15 says to catch the little foxes that spoil the vineyards. Not tolerate them, not make them your pet (peeve) – take them captive. And the same goes for marital miffs.

For your own sanity and the health of your relationship, follow these seven tips to pacify the peeve by first admitting it irritates you, then either accepting it or asking your spouse to address it:

1. Admit when something bothers you

Perhaps you’ve been tolerating your spouse’s habits up until now. Let’s say he mercilessly repeats the same cheesy joke over and over again until the punch line makes you actually want to punch a pillow. But rather than make waves in your relationship, you try to hold the hurricane of frustration within you. We already read that this dishonest denial can cause an explosion of emotion when you least expect it.

As a healthier approach, if you find you can’t ignore the behavior, then you know you need to admit, kindly, to you and your spouse that it’s become an issue for you.

2. Boss your thoughts

Sure, you think your wife’s incessant fingernail tapping on any semi-resonant surface is irritating. But what if you could change the way you think? Author Shaunti Feldhan writes in The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages that the couples she surveyed "were happy, in part, because they had learned to not simply ‘exercise control’ over the nasty feelings – they had actually learned how to change those feelings and talk themselves out of being mad!" She writes that God made us to be able to first change our minds, and have our feelings and actions follow.

Why not try bossing around some of your thoughts about your honey’s harmless habits? Decide it’s okay, cute or quirky even. For example, if your wife laughs so loud she turns heads, be thankful for a joyful wife! And if your husband spends hours (okay, maybe 10 minutes) clipping his toenails, be glad he clips them at all! Can you say "claw-toes"?

3. Ask if they are willing to address the problem, don’t demand they fix it

Does this happen to you? On Sunday morning your bedroom floor looks like the Mt. Everest of your wife’s dress collection. Your wife slumps over the top. She’s weary, not because she was ill-fit for the climb, but because she deems all her clothes ill-fitting right before church time. If you rag on her for making you late for church, you’re sure to make wrinkles in your relationship. Consider a kinder, more respectful approach. Consider saying, "I often feel stressed and rushed trying to get to church on time. I wonder, do you think you might be willing to try picking out your church outfit on Saturday night so you don’t have to worry about it Sunday morning?"

Maybe your spouse is more than willing, happy even, to change their habit to make marriage easier. Maybe he thought you enjoyed seeing his beard hair in the sink as an odd affirmation for you that he is keeping his bristles short to keep kisses with you long! He had no idea how you felt and will now gladly rinse the sink. Admittedly, that’s far-fetched, but it’s worth a shot to ask him to address the issue anyway.

4. Understand them

In the popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, Robert touched his fork-full of food to his chin each time he took a bite. Everyone thought it was weird. For some, it became a pet peeve. That is until the family figured out that the habit originated when Raymond was born and all the attention turned from Robert to him. To cope with having to feed himself, Robert mimicked how his parents had scooped food driblets off his chin. And before he knew it, he carried this subconscious soothing method well into adulthood!

The moral of the story is, try to get to the bottom of your spouse’s behaviour. Ask them, "What does this behaviour mean to you?"

5. Understand you

Have you ever wondered why your spouse’s behaviour upsets you? "In order to bring up an issue like that with another person, you have to get so clear about what really is the issue for you," claims Greg Smalley. "There’s a deeper button being triggered." He then shares an example of when he was tailgated and felt disrespected, the root of his annoyance.

What button is your pet peeve pushing in you? What deeper emotion is it triggering? Rejection, unfairness, worthlessness? When you’ve pinpointed your feelings, lovingly approach your spouse and simply say, "This is what I’ve been noticing and this is how it impacts me," suggests Erin Smalley.

6. Be honest: you’re kind of annoying, too

Before judging the beard bristles in the sink, pick up your slimy strand of hair slithering at the bottom of the shower. That’s the gist of Matthew 7:3-5, with a marital twist.

"When we can’t see our own faults, our marriages suffer dramatically," write marriage authors and speakers Michael and Amy Smalley. So while you don’t need to be down on yourself, please do be honest. Start by thinking of things that you do that could be perceived as annoying, yet he may or may not nag you about. Then use that as a reminder that no one is perfect. You, a sinner, married a sinner.

7. Look for the best in each other

Tame your pet peeve with positive reinforcement of your spouse’s good qualities! After all, dwelling on the negative is a real downer. So instead put Philippians 4:8 into action and focus on all of the many ways your honey is an amazing human being and incredible spouse, suggests Feldhan. The more you think about the good, the more the peeve will pale and positivity will brighten your thoughts!

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2013 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved

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