Should you always pick your battles?
By Erina Lee, Ph.D. and Heather Setrakian
Irritation with a partner can come in many forms – from leaving dirty clothes on the floor to forgetting to wish you good luck on an important day. If this seems very familiar, what’s your next step? Do you going to confront the issue? Or are you just going to let it slide because it’s ‘not worth the argument’?
If your response is to just let it go, then you might want to rethink things. According to several studies, including one done at the eHarmony Labs, confronting your partner about hurtful or annoying things they’ve done can be beneficial for you and your relationship.
At the start of a relationship, couples view each other in a very positive light, ignoring certain irritating behaviours, or perhaps even finding them ‘cute’. Further down the line however, these behaviours may become more annoying than adorable. Scientists studying couples have defined these annoying behaviours as ‘social allergens’. Though they are unlikely to cause outright conflict, these behaviours have been linked to lower relationship satisfaction. (Cunningham, Barbee, and Druen, 1997; Cunningham, Shamblen, Barbee, and Ault, 2005)
We conducted a study in our Labs of 1,036 married heterosexual couples, part of which was to measure marital satisfaction, how annoying their partners had felt to them in the previous 24 hours and whether they’d shown their annoyance. The study showed that 40% of the respondents thought their partners had been annoying during the previous day. Additionally, wives registered more annoyance than husbands.
What we also discovered was that:
• Respondents who thought their spouses had been annoying registered lower levels of marital satisfaction
• The ‘annoying’ spouses said their marital satisfaction was unaffected by being seen as annoying
• The wives who told their husbands they were annoying expressed higher marital satisfaction – and vice versa
Backing up these findings, a study by Denton and Burleson in 2007 looked at how couples discussed problems. It found that though women were more likely to initiate conversations about being annoyed, men and women who talked about these annoyances were more likely to be happier in their relationships.
In a nutshell, by telling your partner they’re annoying you, your relationship could be improved.
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