Dealing with your partner’s unique traits.

Many couples in marriage therapy complain about their partners strange
and annoying quirks.

We all have a few peculiar traits and behaviors that may be hard for our
partners to tolerate. Our partners have their own unique ways that leave
us puzzled.

There is a Russian expression that says, “Everyone goes crazy in his own
way”. So what are these peculiar, crazy ways that perplex us and how can
we deal with them lovingly?

They are mostly incongruent ways that we do not understand. Bob can be
very affectionate and playful with the dog, but formal with his wife and
kids. Suzann is brilliant with numbers, handles the finances for a
multi-million dollar corporation, and is unable to keep her personal
finances in order. Robert is extremely punctual about work appointments,
but is notoriously late for family events. Gordon is loved and
appreciated by all the neighbors, whom he helps with their projects,
while his wife’s pleas for their own repairs go unheeded.

We may assume that these idiosyncrasies are related to the attitude
toward these tasks. Bob may feel insecure of his ability to elicit
loving responses from his wife and children, but can be affectionate in
a less complex relationship with his dog. Suzann may find her personal
financed too mundane to attend to them carefully. Robert’s esteem may
come from showing a reverent attitude toward his work-but not one toward
family gathering. Gordon may need to earn the love of his neighbors,
while his wife’s love is a given.

Other unique habits that pose a problem for partners are not
attitudinal, but biological. For example, John attire is poorly matched
because he is one of six men who are colorblind.

Anne can not understand why Jason “forgets” to take his shoes off after
he tends to the horses. The daily muddy shoeprints on the carpet drive
her to distraction. Ryan is annoyed by Debbie’s ongoing searches for
lost items, her keys, her coat, her grocery list, etc. He can not
understand why an intelligent woman like Debbie can not have ways to
safeguard her things. “If you have a place for your keys and put them
there _you won’t have to look for them”, he says, trying to solve her

So why is it that capable people are so annoying in ways that can be
easily preventable? Why don’t they learn from their frustrating ways and
quit the “not again?” behaviors.

The answers are actually very complex. Even though the behavior is the
same, the cause may differ from person to person.

A partial answer is that our personalities are structured in certain
ways, impacted by our brains. Jason does not intend to annoy Anne with
his muddy shoes, nor is his behavior evidence of his lack of love or
respect for his wife. He is a person who is not very aware of his
physical environment. He may not notice that his shirt isn’t tucked in
properly, or that his sweater is stained. He may be a very intelligent,
even a brilliant man whose intellectual preoccupations may preclude
directing his attention to his physical world.

No pleading, nagging, accusing, or yelling is likely to modify Jason’s
capacity for noticing his environment. He may try to remember Anne’s
request for awhile, but will revert to his natural habits very quickly.

Similarly, Debbie’s distracted style of losing her objects, is not
likely to be resolved by repeated admonitions. Her personality makeup
and neurological structure allow her to concentrate on the whole, and
miss the specific. Debbie’s attention is placed on people’s feelings,
creating harmonious exchanges, being a good mediator- and a person who
will be forever searching for her pen.

As partners we have to determine if the peculiarity of our mates are
part of their make-up or associated with an attitude or behavior. The
latter is much more amenable to change; the former may be viewed as a

Seeing our partners_ annoying habits as a form of a handicap may evoke
compassion rather than anger. We can see that the repeated patterns are
unavoidable and we may need to learn to compensate for them.

Anne can put a sign by the door reminding Jason to take his shoes off,
she may establish a no shoe policy at home, she may request that Jason
vacuum after himself, or she may add the cost of new carpeting to their

Picking our battles requires that we lovingly accept what is part and
parcel of out partners personality and not assign negative intent to them.

I believe that all people are handicapped in some ways. Some forget
names, others lose their way easily, some people are unable to learn
languages or music well, some are defeated by math. For every deficit we
have, another part of our brain is more highly developed. Thus we may be
very good thinkers, and mechanically challenged. We may be very artistic
and poor at managing money.

As brain research evolves, a greater understanding of the neurological
foci of talents will be gained. For now, it is wise for us to deal with
our partners_ peculiarities with compassion and understanding and not
assign malice to them.

  • First assess whether your partner’s annoying ways stem from attitude
    or is biological.
  • Ask your partner to alter his ways. If he is repeatedly unsuccessful,
    though well intentioned, assume that it is unchangeable.
  • Accept your partner’s personality deficits with respect. Her admirable
    talents balance them.
  • Find ways to reduce the negative impact of your partner’s ways on you.
  • Your partner’s annoying traits are his- they are not about you.
  • Acceptance of your partner’s personality as a whole  paves the way to
    a deep and meaningful love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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