Noticing what’s positively eliminated

In relationships — even dating relationships — you often discover behaviors in the other that drive you batty. These behaviors aren’t deal breakers, just minor annoyances. So you non-judgmentally share your irritation with your guy and ask him if he would be willing to work on reducing this. He is accommodating, apologizes for it whatever it is that irks you, and says he’ll work on it.

Let’s say his irksome behavior is poking you in the ribs when he’s teasing you about something. You don’t really mind the teasing, but it’s the poking that smarts a bit, so you tell him. He agrees to be more conscious and stop doing it.

A few days pass. He says something teasingly. No poke. But you don’t notice the absence. The next day he teases you, along with a poke. “You did it again. I told you to stop poking me!” He apologizes and says he’s working on it. Another day, another teasing; no poke. And another. The next one is a teasing/poking combo.

“You must not care that this irritates me because you’re still doing it!”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been really working on this. It’s an old habit we’ve done in my family for decades. It will take a little time for me to undo it.”

You haven’t noticed what’s missing — the poke. You only notice when it’s still present, not the times it’s absent.

This is human nature. Congratulations. You’re part of the human race.

The hard part with any requested behavior change is noticing progress when that improvement is actually the absence of something. It’s hard to notice when something is no longer there. Unless you’re really conscious.

swear wordsI remember many years ago deciding to severely limit my cursing, which previously had been liberal. My ex and I had discussed how it sounded unprofessional and unladylike when I would let loose a curse word, when a non-curse word would suffice. At first it sounded a little silly to say “drat,” “darn,” and “sugar” instead of the more profane versions, but I made a huge effort to utter these. However, an expletive would occasionally leak out and my ex would hear it. He didn’t notice that I’d eliminated 90% of my cussing, and only heard the few swear words and thought I hadn’t made much progress.

So when you ask your guy to make a shift to eliminate some vexing behavior, be sure you notice the progress. Sometimes absence is progress.

Technorati Tags:,,,,,,,, , , , ,

Got a topic on dating after 40 you want Dating Goddess to address? Send your issue to