Is Your Partner's Annoying Habit No Big Deal Or A Deal Breaker?

In Seinfeld, it was a running joke that Jerry would frequently reject women he was dating for completely ridiculous reasons: having man hands, wearing the same dress every day, having a bad laugh, being a low talker. It made for hilarious TV. But I’ve dumped a guy because he thought it was fine to fart around strangers, work associates, and...whomever.

Of course, his refusal to control his bodily functions was the tiny tip of a huge iceberg of ways that we were incompatible. It wasn’t really about that one issue, it’s just much funnier to say that our breakup was about his flatulence and not the fact that we looked at life differently and didn’t respect how the other person did.

But what do you do when you fall in love with someone only to find that one of their habits, personality traits, or quirks makes you want to tear your hair out? When is love enough to conquer your annoyance and when is that annoyance a sign from your subconscious that things aren’t as wonderful as you thought they were? Let’s go through a few different annoyance levels a partner can provoke and discuss how each type can affect a relationship.
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Before we get started, I’m going to make a point: You are dating the person you are dating, annoying quirks and all. These categories, and the behaviors in them, are only loose guides meant to get you thinking about how you feel about your partner’s quirks. In response to some of these examples below, you may be able to kindly suggest a different behavior your partner could try, but know that for the most part, your two options when it comes to an annoying behavior in a partner are to 1) accept it or 2) leave if you cannot accept it.
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Level 1 Annoyance: This is part of what being in a relationship is all about.
These are your garden-variety behaviors that are less than romantic, like nose blowing, chewing loudly, constant throat-clearing, having stinky bathroom trips, etc. These are the kinds of behaviors that aren’t talked about in love songs and aren’t present in rom-coms: They’re the little signs that the relationship you’re in is progressing past the fairy tale and into reality. There’s nothing wrong with reality entering your relationship, unless you’re the type who only wants the fantasy and doesn’t want to get your her hands dirty with the sometimes-ugly truth about how human beings function.

My advice for you if you start fixating on this type of behavior in a partner is to do your best to ignore it, or to use a nose blow as a cue to focus on all the things you are charmed by in your partner. Unfortunately, obsessing on these annoying little human behaviors can be the first step to resenting a partner for being human. If you find that you cannot seem to get over annoyances like this, make sure you are being honest with yourself about the health of your relationship. It could be that you are looking for a convenient way out, Seinfeld-style.
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Level 2 Annoyance: If you see it affecting your partner’s life in other ways, you can offer advice or help.
Behaviors in this category are a step above bodily functions and could be things that are a result of a bad habit, old patterns, or a health issue. Calling stuff like this out is tricky and requires a delicate hand and loads of love and respect. Think about how it would feel if someone told you a trait you had was annoying.

If it bugs you that your partner still dresses like a teenager but has a grown-up job, you can offer to go shopping with him/her so that he/she can fit in at work better — and also look like a sexy dynamo. If your partner interrupts people constantly and it makes you want to shush them into oblivion, that’s something that could also be affecting them at work and out with friends. Bring it up, with love, and say that it’s frustrating for you and ask if he/she has ever noticed doing it. If your partner makes dirty jokes or farts at cocktail parties, you could very sweetly and innocently question the kinds of responses those behaviors get, then ask if that’s the kind of response your partner wants to receive. If your partner is snoring, ask that he/she get a physical for health reasons...and for your sanity.

Again, I’ll stress that none of these requests or questions have to result in your partner changing behaviors. Your partner has been navigating life just fine while making dirty jokes and it is not your job to “fix” them into oblivion. Make sure that any suggestion you make is to first and foremost improve your partner’s life, rather than just make you less annoyed.
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Level 3 Annoyance: A red flag, or possibly a problem that a couple addresses together.
Relationships are weird things to be in. It’s hard to go from being someone’s child to being your own adult to being in an alliance with another human being. It might be uncomfortable to be physically and emotionally vulnerable. It might feel weird to share a Netflix queue with another person. If you are dating someone who needs (and wants) to do a lot of work on themselves, it is up to you to decide if you want to be a part of that work. You either need to jump in and be supportive of that work while taking care of yourself, or you need to get out. You can’t stay and be cruel to them for working through issues.

Some of this work will depend on how long you’ve been in the relationship. If you go out on two dates with a person who then tells you that they aren’t in touch with their emotions and they want to work on that, you have to personally weigh, for yourself, if doing emotional work with a person you have had two dates with is worth it to you. A relationship should be more nurturing than it should be taxing, especially in the beginning. A person who struggles with mental illness can make a wonderful partner, but it is up to you to be honest with yourself if you are willing to walk with them as they tackle such a large thing. You were not put on this earth solely to be a support for another person, but within your life you absolutely have the capacity to grow and change and evolve with another human being. Both options can be rewarding. Think it through, talk it over with your partner and with other people, and stay honest and open with each other.
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Always gut-check yourself and your own motivations when you find yourself annoyed with a partner’s habits. Sometimes, it’s about his/her behavior. Sometimes, it’s about you being stressed out at work and has nothing to do with your partner. And sometimes, it’s the tip of an iceberg of issues. Relationships are a very beautiful dance of balancing your own wants and needs with the wants and needs of another person. When done well, it’s an experiment where everyone grows and remains themselves at the same time. When it gets nitpicky and miserable, everyone walks away feeling worse. You don’t have the right to change a person into the perfect partner you see in your head — you have to accept the person you are dating for who they are. No one is going to be 100% perfect, but if you keep your heart and mind open, you may find someone perfect for you.
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