Getting kicked out of my dad’s house was one of the worst moments of my life. It was Christmas Break, I had been home from college for less than 24 hours, and suddenly my dad was telling me that I needed to go stay with my mom for the rest of the break.
What brought about this turn of events? Well, according to my dad, I had not been helping enough around the house. I sat in the kitchen talking with him while he made dinner, but didn’t offer to help cook. Afterwards, I forgot to put my dishes in the dishwasher until he reminded me. In the morning, I slept in instead of coming down to help cook breakfast. Apparently that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because within the hour my dad was storming out of the house and I was packing to my mom’s house. To be clear, there was no fight, just the sudden ultimatum – “Get out!” To make matters worse, I knew that my brother was in the house, but he wasn’t being kicked out. He lived there, but he hadn’t emerged from his room since I arrived, and he certainly hadn’t helped out with anything.
Looking back, I can see some of the factors that led to my dad’s explosion. He was recently divorced, and not dealing with it well. Also, he suddenly had to do all the cooking and cleaning himself, and in his mind the woman is supposed to be the “queen of the household.” What with me being a woman, he figured that when I came home I should take over those roles, or at least help out significantly. In his mind, I was being ungrateful and thoughtless.
Recognizing the Quirk’s Owner Helps Both People
I wish that my dad and I had both been aware of this week’s strategy during that Christmas break. The strategy is “Ask the Question: Whose Quirk is This Anyway?” This strategy, the second by Carlson’s wife Kris, points out that sometimes the things that bother us about our loved ones are often our own quirks, and not theirs. We may be irritated because we are holding unrealistically high expectations or because we are making an issue of something that actually isn’t that important. The situation with my dad was clearly one where he had unrealistically high expectations and overreacted when they were not met. If he had known that his expectations were the problem, he might have reacted more reasonably. If I had known that the problem was really about him, I might have felt less hurt. At the time, I just felt that he cared more about having a clean house than he did about spending time with me.
Taking the time to consider who a quirk belongs to can help your relationship whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the quirk. If you are the person getting upset over something that is actually your problem, you can adjust your attitude or your approach to be more productive. For example, at the beginning of my marriage, I found myself irritated by my husband’s habit of squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle. It was clearly my issue, as I was focusing in on something that really didn’t matter, so instead of obsessing I just fixed it by getting another tube of toothpaste so that we each have a tube, and we can squeeze them in our preferred ways.
If you are on the receiving end of a quirk that is actually the other person’s problem, recognizing the quirk as theirs can be useful as well. For one thing, it can help you not to feel defensive about the issue, and less emotional about it in general. Everyone has their own quirks, and if you recognize that your partner has some that aren’t about you, but also probably aren’t going anywhere, you can deal with them without the emotional engagement that often turns these irritations into bigger issues than they need to be. Just be careful not to dismiss something that is actually important to your partner as “just a quirk.”
This Week’s Plan
So, if you would like to get better at recognizing which issues are actually your own problem, here’s what I recommend. First, make a list of the little things your partner does that irritate you. Next, go through and determine whether they are actually important, or whether you are being unrealistic. Remember, you are living with a human, not a machine – they will never be perfect. Finally, go through each one and look for simple solutions. For those that you can’t find solutions for, practice letting go of your irritation. When you slip up, keep going. Your irritation didn’t grow in a day, and letting go of it probably won’t happen in a day, either!