It is not unusual for our partner, even when you’ve been together for a long time, to feel more secure in your love after hearing what you like about him or her.
Some partners choose to both do this exercise simultaneously. If you decide to follow suit, you might get even more out of the exercise if you exchange one “like” at a time, rather than reading the entire list first or second.
Before you take the next step, assure one another that you will listen without defensiveness, invalidation, or challenge when you do the second exercise.
Listening to things your partner dislikes about you is not easy, even when you’ve agreed to listen.
The Second Exercise: What I Don’t Like About You
Make sure you and your partner are ready and willing to begin the next exercise.
Be certain that you both agree to stop and renew your caring feelings for each other if things begin to get out of hand, or either of you feels over-loaded.
Remember, you can do only part of this at a time. It is crucial that you stay open and receptive to whatever your partner needs to tell you.
The goal is to listen and then process what either of you needs to do to change the behaviors that are causing distress.
On this new list, you are going to tell your partner, or each other, the thoughts or actions which are beginning to wear on each of you and which, if not identified and changed, could erode your capacity to recover from them.
The best way I have found for partners to communicate these potentially damaging behaviors is to separate them into the following four categories:
1. Behaviors That May Be Simply Annoying
The items on this list are usually things that your partner does which are somewhat irritating in the moment, but soon lose their negative charge as you’re able to reconnect with each other in more positive ways.
They don’t seem to “add up” over time, so you don’t need to be too worried about them, unless they begin to bother you more.
As you go through the following list, use the examples to help you add to or change them for those that are unique to your relationship.
Most couples respond to these kinds of simply annoying behaviors without disagreement and do not feel overly offended by them.
They may even find them funny. But again, over time, those sort-of-okay reactions can turn more negative if the behaviors continue. Identifying them when they are easier to let go of can avoid more damaging results in the future.
Typical examples of annoying behaviors:
- Not replacing the toilet paper
- Using your toothbrush without consent
- Not remembering to inform you of non-critical messages
- Leaving stuff around
- Nodding off watching TV
- Forgetting to turn off the lights
2. Behaviors That Begin to Feel More Aggravating
The following sample behaviors are more upsetting and may take longer for your reactions to them to subside. They may often be irritating you sooner than they used to, and the effects are definitely harder to shake.
If you or your partner are behaving in aggravating ways, you will find yourselves more reactive to those actions when they happen, and your negative responses will be both stronger and last longer.
Typical examples of aggravating behaviors:
- Leaving clothes on the floor
- Continuously interrupting
- Forgetting something important
- Not being available when asked or needed
3. Behaviors That Are Beginning to Offend
Your partner’s expressions and actions are now really getting to you. You’re finding yourself anticipating them and getting worked up at the first sign that they may be about to happen.
Your reactions are immediate, your responses a little terse, and the effects of those behaviors don’t easily go away. You feel an accumulation of distress and an aversion to being around your partner when they behave in these ways.
Typical examples of offensive behaviors:
- Continuous nagging
- Focusing on your mistakes
- Constant negativity
- Breaking promises
- Doing things behind your back
- Being chronically late
4. Behaviors That Can Be Exasperating
These behaviors now “drive you crazy.” You’re beginning to feel allergic to them, even slightly nauseated when they occur. At the first moment you feel they are about to happen, you are instantly irritated and combat-ready.