Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Finding it Charming

If you've ever watched the television show Frasier, then you are familiar with the character Daphne, played by the brilliant Jane Leeves. She was their live-in physical therapist and housekeeper, and in the early seasons they played up her insistence that she was psychic. It was a quirky character trait that ran counter to the more scientific and skeptical natures of Frasier, his brother Niles, and even their father Martin. That being said, they still embraced Daphne as part of their family. When asked about her claims of being a psychic, Frasier replied, "We've decided to find it charming."

While meant as a cute joke, this line was actually wiser than perhaps even the writers realized. In a relationship, your partner is going to have some quirks, habits, and beliefs that you don't share. I've written before about what is and isn't a deal-breaker, and today I want to focus on those aspects of your partner that might annoy you but aren't impossible to live with. Instead of gritting your teeth and bearing them, though, you should try to find them charming.

This often happens naturally during the infatuation stage. We are so taken with someone that we can either ignore those annoying habits or find them cute. Getting to know the object of our affection means learning about their little quirks and routines. While others roll their eyes, we think it's adorable the way they have to double check to make sure they locked the car when they go anywhere. (That would be my quirk.)

Dealing with these quirks can also be a bonding experience for the two of you. When you show that you will not only tolerate this habit, but are also understanding, empathetic, and even appreciative, you become a lot more attractive in their eyes. By being an ally in this, rather than an adversary, you can grow a lot closer.

My wife hates taxidermy. She just does. It creeps her out and she can hardly stand to look at it. We don't eat in restaurants that feature a lot of animal heads on the wall. If it's unavoidable, I make sure that she sits so that she can't see it. We love going to the science museum, but there's a big taxidermy exhibit right in the middle, and you have to talk though it to get to the other side. She can only do it if she shuts her eyes and I guide her through.

This isn't a quirk that I find annoying at all. Rather, I find it a testament to my wife's empathy and caring. She loves animals, finds almost all of them adorable, and she can't stand to see them dead. She has no problem eating meat, mind you, as long as it no longer looks like the animal it used to be. But the actual corpse freaks her out, and taxidermy is the worst. Knowing this about my wife makes me love her even more, and it's a simple matter for me to accommodate.

Now, does this mean that you aren't allowed to be annoyed by any of their habits? Or is it just love me love my weirdness? If you know what you're getting into, do you have any right to object when they insist on going back to check on the car, even though you know it was locked, and their paranoia is going to make you late? Just because you once thought it was charming, does it mean that you have to put up with it?

This is where these charming habits can get complicated, because it's not a simple yes or no answer. It's not even multiple choice, we're talking long essay here. When it comes to their basic habits, you are just going to have to deal with it, because this is a part of who they are. You knew what you were getting into and signed on anyway. You made an informed decision.

However, as others have wisely said, a relationship isn't a suicide pact. (Also applicable to marriage vows.) Just because you knew about these quirks doesn't mean that you have to let them completely disrupt your life. There's a difference between reasonable accommodation and being held hostage. The less that these quirks disrupt your life, the more you can learn to live with them, if not love them. However, when they begin to actually cause you harm in some way, such as constantly make you late, then of course you have every right to speak up.

Sometimes the other person has no idea how they are affecting you. No one's told them before. If they truly care about you, then they will do their best to not annoy you. For instance, whenever I use a napkin, I like to wad it up into a little ball. I don't just use one napkin though, I go through several. By the end of a particularly messy meal, I can have a small pile of napkin balls just sitting there. Even if I'm having a snack, I'll grab a napkin and pretty soon ball it up.

My wife absolutely hates it when I leave them lying around, and it was one of my habits to just casually toss them away and get it later. Now, as often as I remember, I will make sure to throw away the napkins as soon as I'm finished eating. Now, you might think this is a minor issue, far less serious than the taxidermy phobia, but I tried to see it from her point of view. When I left the napkins lying around, it was creating a mess. I was turning the entire house into my personal wastebasket, and that wasn't fair to her. Plus, if there was enough food on those napkins, they could attract ants, and that's the last thing we want.

That's the difference. I'm never going to stop balling up my napkins. It's who I am and one of my lovable quirks. However, there's no reason for me to leave them lying around. That's just unsanitary and could potentially cause her harm. I am willing to adjust my quirk to make her life easier. And it's not as if she hasn't adjusted for me. She does go to the museum or to restaurants with an acceptable level of animal heads, I just have to make sure she doesn't see them.

Finally, there's one other thing you should consider when your partner's quirks begin to annoy you. Are you certain that's why you are annoyed? If a habit of theirs never bothered you before, if you always found it cute and adorable, then chances are that's not the issue. That's not why you're mad. It's something else, but you are now focusing your rage on this harmless habit.

A lot of times you are upset about a deeper issue in the relationship, and it's manifesting by you being upset over their quirk. There's nothing wrong with having a legitimate complaint, and productive conflict is actually healthy for a relationship. But to have healthy conflict, you have to know what the issue is. Chances are, them leaving the socks on the floor isn't what's bothering you, and you need to figure out why it started to bother you now.

Of course, your anger could be completely misdirected and it could have nothing to do with your partner at all. It could be about your job, or some idiot in traffic, or any number of outside issues. The last thing you want to do is start an argument over the wrong issue and make things even worse. Instead, you need to remind yourself that you aren't really mad at their quirk, you're just taking it out on them.

The best way to diffuse your anger at this habit is to tell your partner that you are feeling upset and that everything is irritating you. By coming at this honestly, rather than turning into a big, green rage monster, you will find that your quirky partner is more than willing to be an ally and help you through what's bothering you.

Not only are these charming habits something that can bring you closer, they can also be a sign of greater trouble. We all have these quirks, and the key is finding someone with compatible quirks. Just remember, when you are tempted to get annoyed, take another tack and instead find it charming. Because I can guarantee that as much as it might still annoy you, you'll really miss it when it's gone.

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1 comment:

  1. Your line at the end was profound. I had never quite thought of it that way before. Very well put.

    Thanks for another great article, Charles.

    It would really be interesting to see your perspectives if/when you become a dad. I think that your quirky take on life, combined with kids natural tendency for quirkiness would be a wonderful site to see.

    I want a front row seat.