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Irritating Habits

It is only in the last 6 years of our 19-year marriage that I have realised that my partner swills his drinks in his mouth before swallowing. However, once this has been seen, it can never been unseen – and he drinks a LOT of drinks in the course of a day.

I have a habit of not unpacking my suitcase after being away, for at least a couple of days, sometimes (especially in the earlier days of our relationship) it could be up to a week. This winds up my partner NO END.  His case is unpacked within about 4 minutes of walking in the door, and by the 10-minute mark, he’s already got the washing machine going.

There are highly entertaining lists out there of the Top 10 of most annoying habits; take a look if you have a free 10 minutes on your lunch break. My personal favourite is ‘taking ages on the toilet’.

Admittedly there are differences in irritating habits – if they ‘let one out’ at the dinner table, it’s a bit different to having a habitual drinking habit. This blog is more around the former issue, the shallow, small stuff that can really grate.

The good news is, that to be annoyed with your partner’s habits is entirely normal. The phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ comes to mind.

This article in Psychology Today, sums up what other articles I have read talk about. The idea of misattribution – the fact that we don’t notice, or refuse to acknowledge the sources of stress in our own lives. Once it has built up enough that we begin to acknowledge it, we look at our immediate environment, the home, for its cause.

We misattribute our bad moods to something our partner has done, and we become more and more dissatisfied with our relationship. But, with practice, it can work the other way, too. We can come to appreciate our partner more if we associate pleasant feelings with them…. By being mindful about the true source of the minor irritations in our lives, we can more fully appreciate the good things about our partners as well as what they contribute to our lives each day.

If we’re honest with ourselves, what are the areas of our relationship that we’re not sure about – any sources of anxiety or resentment? Remember, change can be a big source of stress and tension. Even if things were fine before, a shift in circumstance can be enough to create problems where there were none before. Sometimes this can happen without us even noticing.

Richard wrote a brilliant blog about first attraction. The premise of this, is that often the very things that first attracted us to our partners are the things that – over time – we find the most annoying. This is definitely worth revisiting after reading this.

So, how then, can we move forward? It’s ALL ABOUT communication. Let’s not be the person to leave books or leaflets around the house; hoping our partner gets the hint.

The key is to work together to change the habits that can be changed and learn to accept those that can’t.

It is vitally important that we examine our own motives before beginning the conversation. What outcome are we looking for? Are we ultimately trying to change our partner to make them more like ourselves? Are we enabling them to grow or trying to shut them down? Is this going to help both of us become greater, stronger, more of a team?

Keep in mind that we are seeking to change the habit, not the person.

The different ways we are both wired is something we need to learn to embrace and celebrate, rather than try to change. We’d be fighting a losing battle if we try. We look at this in detail on our retreat.

It can be helpful to find the time to sit down and talk when we’re not already feeling annoyed. Then, the advice for us all is:

  • Don’t phrase comments as an attack. Acknowledge that things haven’t been as good as they could be recently and that you think a little communication would be helpful / appreciated.
  • Start with some encouragement of the good habits you acknowledge and like. Even if this is just an exercise in your own head, it is worth doing.
  • Don’t beat around the bush but be honest with feelings, requesting (rather than demanding) the desired change hoped for. Verbalise the benefit of the change, recognising that it may take time.
  • Maybe suggest a ‘habit trade’. It could be a great time to put it out there, for our partners to be able to have their say too. Might be best to cap it at just one habit each, or else it could slide into a different type of ‘conversation’.


My partner and I have discussed and changed SO many irritating habits in ourselves over the years. It is amazing though, because for each habit we change, a new one slips in to take its place. It is a never-ending conversation. There are some, like the ‘tea swilling’, that I don’t believe will ever be fixed. I am resigned to them now and have found methods to distract myself when it is happening.

I also constantly remind myself of all the amazing things he brings to my life, and suddenly the tea swilling feels a little ridiculous. One day, the time may come, when I will long for these tea-swilling days to come back again.

Susannah Baker

After giving up a senior nursing role spanning 14 years, and moving to Devon, Susannah is now the director of a holiday business; a founder and trustee of The Pickwell Foundation, a partner to Steve and a mum to two teenagers.

Keeping her hand in with the nursing side, she works as a Community First Responder for the South West Ambulance Service.

The question of 'what makes relationships great', together with a real curiosity of how people stay together for a life-time, has always caused much fascination.  On a search to discover some answers for herself, One:Retreat was born.

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