Skip to content

Counseling

Uugghh, You’re So Annoying

annoying couple


Recently I read a fun article from the Today Show. It reminded me of premarital counseling.

Every time I see couples for premarital counseling I have them discuss their expectations for household tasks. The exercise of discussing daily tasks like washing dishes, doing laundry, feeding the pets, and cooking food creates opportunities to discuss tension points. An unbalanced household workload is a MAJOR source of conflict in marriage. Resentment forms quickly when one partner feels they are doing everything around the house and their spouse is a slacker. If you cannot communicate well regarding simple household tasks, deeper, more intimate topics will be impossible to manage.

The article I mentioned from the Today Show is titled ‘Infuriating!’ Here are 5 of the most annoying household habits ever.

The folks at the Today Show did a little survey asking people about their spouse’s most annoying habits. It’s a short article, you should click it quick and read it.

They found the most annoying household habits ever are:

1. Leaving the dirty dishes in the sink

2. Taking other people’s food out of the fridge

3. Putting empty containers back in the fridge

4. Wasting paper towels

5. Not replacing the toilet paper roll

When I read the article I thought ut-oh! I’m guilty. I like paper towels. A lot. I’ll admit to overusing paper towels but in my mind I never waste them. I’m not sure about your house but in our house kids make messes. Ok, I make a lot of messes too but I’d like to think mine are more sophisticated adult messes like exploding spaghetti sauce in the microwave. But I never fear because the paper towel holder is near. I use paper towels for wiping the kitchen counters, cleaning chocolate milk moustaches, gathering smashed banana pieces off the floor, and cleaning out the stray coffee grounds from the coffee maker. Paper towels are clearly superior to a kitchen washrag because the dirty mess goes right into the garbage, not the sink. This saves a few unnecessary steps. My paper towel habit is not saving the trees, but it’s justified because it saves my energy and sanity.

paper towel


After reading the Today Show article I began to wonder if my habit was eroding Hollie’s sanity. Was I unintentionally the most annoying husband ever?

I didn’t know so I texted her “Do you think I use too many paper towels?” with a link to the article.

She responded back “that’s a fun article.”

Kind of left me wondering but at least it wasn’t “YES! It’s super-duper annoying.” So I’m thinking she doesn’t mind much.

If you ever wonder if one of your habits is annoying your spouse,

Think.

Come on now, just think about it for a second. You probably already know you’re annoying in some things because leaving dirty socks next to her pillow is the essence of annoying.

Listen.

You know that sound your spouse makes? It’s called talking. If you listen closely enough you’ll discover they’ve been telling you directly how annoying your habits are. When we grab fast food Hollie and I typically share a large drink. I drink the majority of it and she tells me “hey! You drank it all.” I’m pretty sure that annoys her more than using a bunch of paper towels.

Ask.

If you’re still not sure if your habit is annoying, ask your spouse. Ask them by text, with a silly voice or in a serious moment but ask. If you want to know something, you’ve got to ask. You may not want to know, afraid you’ll need to change. If you ask and your spouse responds “yes, that’s super annoying,” then you’ve put yourself in a position where you’ll either continue making it hard for them to love you or you’ll change your behavior.   

News flash! Changing your annoying habits to make yourself more tolerable and lovable in marriage is a no brainer. Showing you’re willing to do the difficult work of putting your socks in the clothes hamper could work miracles in your marriage.  

All relationships require adjusting. When we were first married I piled up dishes in the sink. As a bachelor my dishes strategy was to conserve effort and wash the dishes only when I had no more clean ones. The pile could build for over a week; I only had to do dishes a few times a month. After we got married I quickly discovered my pile up the dishes strategy wasn’t going to fly anymore. Eventually I learned to adjust and became more diligent about putting the dishes in the dishwasher.

Couples fit into one of two different communication ruts when addressing annoying habits.

Ignore and avoid

The ignore and avoid communication rut looks like couples who try to ignore their partner’s annoying habit. At first this looks like a good strategy, it reduces conflict and prevents sounding like a complainer. The problem is eventually, since the habit is quite annoying, avoidance takes over in everything. The tendency to avoid conflict leads to avoiding contact. Guys who ignore and avoid are silent at home but often have no problem spouting off the annoying habits of their wife when talking to their buddies on the golf course. When spouses avoid contact with each other, love drifts off.

To stop the avoiding communication pattern, be bold. Risk stepping on some toes, you’ll find honest, caring, and direct communication opens doors to really connect with your spouse on a much more intimate level.

Confront and conquer

The confront and conquer communication rut looks like couples who constantly nit pick at each other. Nearly all communication contains a critical tone. When others point out their criticism, they laugh it off and say “we love each other, that’s just how we communicate.” Yikes. Even if they try to shrug it off, the communication pattern is dangerous. Each partner feels attacked and actively defends their actions, usually by a counter attack. “I hate how you’re always coming home late!” “oh yeah? Well if you’d ever make dinner worth eating maybe I’d want to come home.” The attacks continue until one partner is conquered.

To stop the conquer or be conquered communication pattern, chill out. Apologize for your nit picking and give your spouse grace. Putting away your battle weapons will open doors to connect with your spouse in meaningful and intimate ways.

What’s your annoying habit?

How will you communicate with your spouse differently today?

9 Reasons Your Communication Sucks

communication problems couple


If you’re like most couples, you communicate fine. Until you don’t. One minute you’re having a discussion, the next minute you’re fighting again. Your voice gets louder; your tone becomes sarcastic and demeaning. You end up feeling angry or hurt again. What happened?

You’re normal. But you don’t have to be a normal couple neck deep in conflict wondering what happened and where you went wrong. You can have a wonderful marriage and learn to experience better communication.

Look for the most obvious source.

Your communication breakdown is not random like it seems. Interacting with your spouse contains many variables. It’s important to look at the setting and background of your communication fail to see how you can improve. A few years ago I talked to a friend of mine who is a family practice doctor. He explained doctors are trained to look for the most obvious or most common source of illness and rule it out before going on to conduct other testing for more obscure or rare diseases which could account for the problem. You need to do the same in your marriage. Don’t assume your current communication problem is a serious relationship disorder or deep childhood scarring preventing you from understanding each other. Look for the obvious first. Communication breaks down the most when:

You’re tired.

Communicating when tired is like driving when you are sleepy. It’s dangerous. Proceed with caution. Communication takes focus; when your ability to focus deteriorates you crash. It’s best to shorten conversations or pause them until morning if you are tired. Continue your conversation after you have rested when you can have a coherent thought and responsible reaction again.

You’re hungry.

Our bodies need fuel. Kindergarten teachers know kids need a snack. Adults forget to fuel their bodies and get grumpy. Communicating with a hungry bear goes better after you give them a fat salmon.

You’re stressed.

Communication get tense when you are facing a deadline at work or dealing with another mini crisis like your kids yelling and fighting over the bag of Cheetos. Anxiety is related to stress in that it can feel like stress another major reason for poor communication.

You’re sick or in pain.

The way our bodies feel impact our ability to communicate effectively. The worse your spouse feels the more difficult it is to say what you mean. People who hit their thumb with a hammer say words they would normally not say. The same happens when you feel sick or are experiencing physical pain.

For a humorous look at relationships during times of sickness check out my blog post In Sickness.

You’re distracted.

Communicating with a spouse while they are looking at their phone is like talking to a mannequin and feels equally awkward. You may feel like you can check Facebook and talk to your spouse at the same time but you can’t. Your communication stinks when you are distracted.

Pay attention to what is going on right now.

The obvious answer is often the best answer. You must address the immediate barriers to your communication first. Forcing communication when you’re tired is not a good idea. The advice of “never go to bed angry” is great advice only if you’re not tired. If you are tired pausing your conversation and getting some sleep is much better than trying to resolve communication problems when you are tired. But wait, there’s never a time when you’re not tired? I’ve been there. When we first became parents we didn’t know what day it was or even if it was day or night. You can still communicate when tired but you have to be aware of your diminished capacity. Acknowledge the obvious barrier to good communication.

Waiting until the world is perfect will never work but you can overcome common barriers to good communication fairly quickly. Get food, then communicate. Put your phone down, then communicate. Notice what is going on for your spouse. It may be helpful to start a conversation by pointing out the obvious. For example say: “I know you are stressed because of your work deadline and I love your dedication. Can we please talk a minute about the kid’s dentist appointment tomorrow?” Pointing out the primary external barrier always works better than “hey! you never pay attention to me. I said you have to take the kids to the dentist tomorrow!”

Major barriers need attention too.

Not all barriers to good communication are immediately obvious or superficial. Major barriers must get resolved before you can proceed with effective communication in marriage. These major barriers can be signs of deeper emotional issues in the relationship.

You’re dishonest.

Lying to your spouse in any form crushes trust. Even “stretching the truth” to avoid an argument cripples communication. It may seem like a no brainer but I’ve seen couples in counseling who regularly lie to their partner and wonder why their relationship is not working and intimacy is suffering.

You’re not listening.

For good communication in marriage you have to listen to your spouse and feel listened to. Without listening it doesn’t matter what is said, communication will falter. Relationships without listening cannot thrive and often don’t survive.

You’re critical.

Spouse’s who criticize each other constantly cannot develop good communication. You may not even realize you are critical of your spouse. Would your spouse say you are their biggest cheerleader? If you don’t communicate your support of your spouse you likely come across as too critical. You must recognize your destructive pattern and stop criticizing your spouse before you can experience wonderful communication.

You’re hurtful.

Spouses go beyond criticism and hurt each other by repeatedly opening old emotional wounds. Touching painful emotions will happen in marriage, it’s unavoidable, but couples who relentlessly jab their partner’s previous hurts destroy connection. You know what topics are sensitive or painful in your marriage. Perhaps it’s money, visiting the in-laws, or a former addiction.

Your communication may suck for a variety of reasons, immediately obvious, or deeper in nature. The good news is you don’t have to stay in your same pattern of terrible communication.


 

For those ready to go even deeper to experience wonderful communication with your spouse my premium training course is for you. My brand new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage is an action oriented system to improve your communication. In only one month you’ll develop new communication patterns and experience renewed connection with your spouse. Get your 30 Day journey started today.

The White Water of Communication in Marriage

Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)
Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)

Fishing was fun but what happened next, I’ll never forget.

One warm summer day my dad, mom, younger sister and I went fishing at nearby MacKay reservoir. Usually we found a spot along the bank but this time we fished off the dam. I can’t remember much about the fishing, I suppose it was a lot of my dad baiting the hook with night crawlers and me casting them into the greenish water.

Not long after we started fishing a group of people came to play at the dam. They carried inner tubes and started swimming in the cool water not far from where we were fishing. I remember watching as each guy curled up inside an inner tube and rolled down the slope of the dam splashing into the water. It looked like fun and the entire group was laughing and having a great time. I’m not sure how long we attempted to fish while they splashed nearby; mostly I remember what happened next.  

One of the guys didn’t come up.

The laughing quickly turned to concern then to frantic searching in the murky water.

The next part of my memory consists mostly of the flashing red lights of the ambulance. I learned later my dad drove our truck to a nearby house to call 9-1-1. Emergency workers had difficulty finding the missing swimmer due to poor visibility. They eventually found him but he didn’t make it.

Experiences matter. Highly emotional experiences tend to hold enormous meaning throughout our lifetime. They shape us to the core and provide the backstory of our life.

To this day I’m wary of water sports. It took me a long time to realize how my experience at MacKay Reservoir affected me. I can’t even name the emotion related to the experience but my reaction has been caution. I get nervous around water and tend to be extra vigilant to ensure everyone is safe. That’s not exactly a bad thing and it didn’t really matter until my wife suggested we go white water rafting with friends.

My reaction didn’t go over very well.

My fear came out as disinterest. Ok, my reaction was probably stronger like disdain for her idea. Pro tip: never treat your spouse with disdain, it’s not healthy for connection.

The ensuing discussion was tense, my reaction was surprisingly blunt and raw. I was afraid but it was hard to describe in that moment.

My wife Hollie has a different emotional response to water sports. She had an amazing experience white water rafting in Africa. In the summer after her freshman year in college Hollie visited the country of Zambia for a two week long mission trip. During the trip her group went on a rafting trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe Africa. They put the raft in at the base of the falls excited to experience the class five rapids. The first rapid was called the boiling pot where the river makes a sharp turn. They had only been in the boat a few minutes when the raft crashed into rocks and turned over. Everyone fell out and rushed to get back in the raft to avoid the crocodiles. Even when she retells the story she can feel the adrenaline rush. Hollie loves a thrill and she remembers her trip as one of the most awesome experiences of her life. Whenever she thinks of whitewater rafting she recalls the wonderful emotion of adventure on the Zambezi.

Our experiences and our reactions to them are vastly different. A simple conversation about the idea of going rafting touched on emotions from our unique experiences. Because our experiences and emotions were so different our communication regarding the possibility of a rafting trip missed each other. I was overly annoyed at her giddiness and rather than share my fear, I was irritable.   

Writing about the drowning and my reaction to it nearly 30 years later makes it seem easy. Like I’m super aware of every emotion from every back story of my entire life. I’m not. It took me a while to unpack my reservations to sign up for the rafting trip. Slowly over many conversations with my wife and years of self reflection, I was able to see how my experiences and reactions were related to emotion.

All communication contains emotion to some degree, especially in marriage. Emotions provide meaning to the words we say. The emotions you feel and communicate come from your past experiences and how you react to them.

To communicate better with your spouse:

Identify your emotions.

The simple (but not easy) step of labeling how you feel will help you unpack your reactions and how you communicate with your spouse.

Identify the source of your emotional reaction.

It may not be clear where your emotions are coming from but often there was some type of event or situation behind your emotion. It could be as simple as having an exhausting day which fuels your curt responses to your spouse.

Many couples go off track here and miss-identify their spouse is the reason for their uncomfortable emotions. It’s often a result of lazy introspection. HINT: The source of your negative emotion is likely not your spouse. If I had incorrectly labeled Hollie as the source of my emotion, that it was her fault I felt afraid, our communication and marriage would struggle. Viewing negative emotions as external to your marriage will help you come together against the threat. Viewing negative emotions as internal to your marriage will fuel conflict and disconnection.

If interactions with your spouse have caused serious emotional pain, please get professional help to provide a safe place to heal your marriage.

Share your experience with your spouse.

Communicating about your past experiences will help to explain your current feelings and behaviors. Identifying a situation or combination of circumstances will help your spouse be more supportive and less defensive.

Engage in new experiences. 

Be open to trying new experiences and new emotions. Your fear may be valid but don’t let fear paralyze you and limit your life. I’ll try whitewater rafting, it will be scary and I’ll probably never be as comfortable with it as my wife. But when I do I’ll experience new positive emotions and my fear will diminish some.

What is your white water rafting? What scares you but seems silly to your spouse? Share your experience with your spouse. Your communication and connection in marriage will thrive when you take the risk to share vulnerable emotions. When your spouse shares their experiences and fears respond with understanding and gentle encouragement rather than judgment and shame; it will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Go Deeper.

Learn more about communication in marriage with my new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage.

The course is packed with my best lessons on communication formed from years of working with couples in my counseling office. 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage course contains even more information than I can cover with couples in the counseling setting.

The course is delivered to you in 30 daily emails which contain lessons specifically designed to boost your communication with your spouse. Each lesson includes an Action Point so you can immediately apply the lesson to your relationship.

Lessons Include:

  • The requirement for all communication.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • Getting comfortable with compliments.
  • How to know what your partner is thinking.
  • Reducing distractions.
  • And 25 more!


FREE BONUS: You can also receive each lesson via text message. If you are like me, you always have your phone. The text message option allows you easy access to the content on the go making it even easier to boost your communication today.

Click the link or photo to GET IT NOW

Wild Style: Making Your Communication Match Your Desired Intimacy

Matching intimacy


Communication always happens within the context of relationship.

Communication needs relationships to exist and relationships need communication to survive.

Every relationship in your life is different. Each contains a different amount of shared history, vulnerability, mutual benefit, and intimacy, which all influence how and what you communicate.

The Mailman

The relationship I have with my mailman contains only of him driving to my house and putting mail in my mailbox. I respectfully keep the area in front of the mailbox clear to help make his job easier and if I happen to be outside and see him deliver the mail, I’ll give him a friendly nod or neighborly wave. The only communication we need to maintain our relationship is when I put the red flag up on the mailbox to alert him of the letter I placed there.

Communication Evangelist

Even advertising is communication in relationship. Hundreds of companies and brands communicate with me every day. We have a relationship. The best brands invest heavily into the relationship with customers by communicating the benefit of the relationship. Customers can become so loyal they view their relationship with the company as a part of their personal identity. For example, the most fanatic customers of Apple are known as Apple evangelists. Apple has built strong relationships with its customers through effective communication.

wild style


Wild Style

My son loves to talk to me about Legos. Our conversation is about the details of his “wild style motorcycle” and its multitude of guns, but we are mostly communicating about our relationship. The words are about Legos but more importantly the meaning contained in the words communicate my delight in him and his creativity, which builds our connection. I can talk about Legos with anyone. I’ve even had conversations on Twitter about Legos, but the relationship I have with people on Twitter is much different than the relationship I have with my son.

Marriage is a one of a kind relationship. Marriage contains exclusive benefits financially, sexually, and emotionally. Your communication must reflect the unique status of marriage.

  • Problems arise in marriage when communication doesn’t take into account the depth of the relationship. You cannot communicate with your spouse like they are the mailman. The lack depth will starve your connection.
  • You’re going to have problems if you treat your marriage like a business and your spouse like a commodity. Some people try to run their marriage like an exchange but often become control freaks and bankrupt the connection.
  • Parent child relationships are meaningful and precious but never treat your spouse like a child. Many marriages fall into that pattern of interaction which grossly distorts the relationship and often ends with much resentment.

Marriage is special and your marriage is unique. The level of intimacy in your relationship will reflect the level of intimacy in your communication. You must adjust the level of communication to match the level of intimacy you want in your relationship.


2 parts of communication coverI would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.

 

4 Marriage Lessons from Sour Milk

milk


I never feel more apologetic than when I clean the back seat of the car. In those moments I apologize to my car for having children. Last summer our car smelled. Bad. Upon further investigation we discovered a long hidden sippy cup lodged under the seat. It had been filled with milk and given to one of our sons and at some point in the chaos of child transport it was forgotten. Until the smell. The first day the smell arrived it smelled like something had died along the road, like we passed roadkill along the way. The smell was disregarded as we got out of the car. By the second day of the smell it was clear the roadkill was somewhere in the car. We cleaned the car and found the cup. The sour smell was overwhelming and the sick feeling was made worse when we discovered the smell was not only from the cup of sour milk but that the milk had spilled onto the floor of the car. We scrubbed, we removed the seats, we scrubbed and washed and air freshened. Eventually the smell diminished but the smell still lingers in my memory.

The sour milk tragedy reminds me of the interaction cycle of some couples. In life and marriage not everything works out perfectly. Mistakes are made, miscommunication happens and hurtful words get flung around. For healthy couples these difficult times are no fun but they are quickly resolved and connection is restored. Unfortunately, some couples ignore the mess and conflict hoping it will go away. Their conflict continues and their connection suffers until the smell becomes unbearable.

To avoid a sour milk marriage:

  1. Risk making a mess. First of all it’s okay to really engage in your relationship. You must risk vulnerability to connect well in your marriage. We are okay with living in our car. We want to engage with our children in the car which means risking spills and crushed fish crackers in the car seats. Don’t be so scared of making a mistake in your relationship that you suffocate authenticity.
  2. Take care. Although we allow our kids to eat in the car we also teach them not to be careless. We don’t expect them to never spill but we do expect them to learn. Invest in your relationship. Learn how to avoid relationship injuries. Talk to your spouse about ways you can reduce conflict. Get expert help when you are not sure how to connect well without fighting.
  3. Stop criticizing. It would not have helped to yell at our kids for spilling the milk. In your relationship it doesn’t help to shame your spouse. No matter how much you know about your spouse of how careful you are arguments will happen. Criticism destroys the foundation of trust in relationships.
  4. Clean up quickly. The main problem in our car was not that milk was spilled but that we didn’t clean it up soon enough. The warm summer days took our neglect and punished our sense of smell. When fights and arguments result in hurt feelings don’t just let it sit. You can take time to cool off if your argument gets too hot but don’t let it go days without working to resolve the tension. The longer you keep unaddressed conflict in your marriage the nastier it gets. Healthy couples quickly clean up the spills of relationship injuries.