It was day two of the three-day reunion. Already those with “strong” (e.g., obnoxious) personalities were starting to get to some of us. A handful of us met for breakfast just to have some non-irritating conversation.
It began with venting about what the “challenging” ones had said or done that got on our nerves. “How could he say that?” one asked. “If he would just learn to keep his mouth shut,” responded another. After hearing the frustration others’ behavior caused all of us, I had an epiphany.
“For our own sanity, we have to remember one thing: The only person you can change is yourself.”
They didn’t quite drop to their knees in reverence of this wise sage before them, but they did stop to consider the concept. We dubbed it “Rule #1” and agreed when another was frustrated with one of the vexing ones, we’d gently whisper “Remember Rule #1” in the ear of the stressed one.
It worked to not allow some thoughtless and unkind comments to escalate, as the recipient just breathed and focused on what she could do to shift her irritation.
What does this have to do with dating?
Many fights start after someone has gotten on your last nerve. Their irksome behaviors fester until you can stand it no longer. If this is a guy you’re dating, it can be ugly and turn lethal for the relationship. Voicing your irritation — while you are irritated — can devolve into words that sever trust. Dating involves your becoming increasingly vulnerable, and if trust is broken, it is very difficult to repair.
The ideal is to reframe the behavior. (See “Turn your liabilities into assets” and “Being ‘in wonder’ about your date’s behavior.”) For example, a friend complained that her boyfriend sometimes tells her what to do. She could continue to get irritated at this behavior. Even after talking to him about it, he changed only slightly. So she has a choice: She can continue to get irritated and snap at him, or stop seeing him. Or she can think what positive reasons he might have for behaving that way.
For example, he wants his girlfriend to be successful at whatever she does. However, she’s not a detail person so he’s noticed she sometimes forgets the little things and then has to go back and fix them. He is more detail-oriented and sees the missing pieces. When he points out the missing details, he is trying to be helpful. He means well. In a twisted way, this is one way he shows his love for her. He’s not implying she is stupid.
Now if he really thinks she’s stupid, that’s another matter (and posting!). But if we are able to see the love under a behavior, it makes it easier to not get irritated.
Granted, not all irritating behaviors are based on love. Some are a result of low social skills, low self-esteem, or psychological problems. The person is so wrapped up in his/her own world, s/he has no clue that what they said is hurtful or bothersome. And while I believe that as adults no one can verbally hurt you without your permission, there are times that concept is put to the test. When someone you care about and trust says mean things to you, it is hard to not get hurt.
Next time your date does something annoying, it is okay to talk to him about it — only when you’re not still annoyed. (See “When do you tell your date about irritants?“)
But practice seeing if it might actually be a way he’s showing his connection or caring for you. If he continues to tell you lame jokes, realize his wanting to entertain you is his way of showing his affection. His expression of caring will take many forms, some of which aren’t to your liking. If he’s mature and sane, he’ll want to focus on the actions that get the result he wants — your returned affection. But know that some behaviors that are irritating to you, may have been encouraged by past dates/girlfriends/wives.
Make it a game you play with yourself to see if you can find something positive in the negative.
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