Don't let nit-picking about an unmade bed or an annoying bad habit impact your relationship.
When a marriage is in trouble, the people in it are nit-pickers: "He leaves his dirty laundry on the floor and expects me to pick it up. Not only am I not going to pick it up, I'm not even going to do his laundry! If he wants clean clothes, he can wash them himself."
When a marriage is happy, the people in it are over-lookers: "She leaves her dirty tissues by the computer when she uses it. I mentioned this to her once or twice and she does it less, but it still happens. I generally just throw them out for her and don't mention it at this point. It's not a big deal."
Research shows that couples start to evaluate the inequalities in their relationship after they are feeling disconnected and neglected. The inequalities and flaws tend to exist when you're dating and years afterward. It's just that eventually, when you feel ignored and unappreciated by your mate for a long period of time, you start paying more attention to and becoming more irritated by certain inequalities. You really wouldn't care so much about the laundry on the floor if your mate went out of his way every day to make you feel special and important. Having young children corresponds to having a short fuse with your mate, but that's partly because kids put a strain on couples' alone time and the overall loving connection.
So what can we do about this?
If you notice that you and your mate are in a negative cycle of finding fault with one another, take a step back and realize that the flaws are not really the problem. You and your mate have bad intentions toward each other. You want to prove how lazy, inconsiderate, and rude your mate is. But why are you taking aim at your mate? If you're like any of my clients, it's because you feel alone in your relationship.
If my last sentence awakened you to an unconscious feeling you've been having for a while, that's a good thing. What you can talk about with your mate and openly share, you can repair.
If nit-picking is the superficial problem you two face, it's time to admit that. Ask your mate to sit down with you. Explain that you love him/her, but feel neglected, and you were wondering if he/she also feels neglected or unappreciated by you. Most likely, lonely feelings go both ways. Talk about specific things you can do to repair the bond, from couple activities to choosing to operate with good intentions by commenting on the positive things each of you do, every day. (In a prior column I suggest giving a daily dose of recognition—go to www.nymetroparents.com/fightless to read about that.)
You can also make simple changes, like giving each other a big hug and kiss when you first see each other at home at the end of the work day. Ask your mate what else you can do to show him/her more appreciation, and then DO IT. It doesn't matter if you think his/her request is silly. Love survives and thrives when we are willing to go out of our way to make our mate happy.
Our monthly relationship columnist Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, pregnancy and parenting blogger at www.expectingwords.com, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America," and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. She lives in Westchester with her husband and two children.
Also by Laurie Puhn:
How to Save a Financially Wounded Marriage
How Takeout Saved My Marriage
Ten Habits of Happy Couples