Even in the best relationships people sometimes get annoyed by their partner’s behavior. And while some annoyances are a small price to pay for being with someone who’s otherwise completely amazing, sometimes you have to speak up before a small annoyance becomes a major source of resentment.
Below are some tips on how to do that effectively.
Speaking is golden
Unless you’re dating a superhero, your boyfriend can’t read your mind. And that’s a good thing, too, because there’s plenty in there that you don’t want him to know about—yes, you remember what that pair of shoes actually cost.
But aside from helping keep your deep, dark secrets hidden, that also means that if you want something from him, you’ll need to speak up. Something might bother you a thousand times (put the *$@#ing toilet seat down!), but unless you actually tell him he won’t know about it.
Because again, he can’t read your mind.
So if something is bothering you, tell him. And preferably before it has the time to grow from a minor annoyance into a major issue. That way, he actually has a chance to do something about it.
If you finally speak up, chances are that the immediate topic will just the tip of the iceberg—especially if you’ve been holding back for weeks or even months.
Sure, you want him to cook more often, but beyond that you’ve hardly been on any dates recently, he’s spent way too many nights going out with his friends, he really should take out the trash more often, he’s put off getting a haircut to the point where he’s starting to look like a ‘90s grunge guitar player, he’s been avoiding that dinner with your parents for weeks now, he keeps stuffing his shirts into the drawer without even folding them, and…
Before you know it you’re presenting him with an overload of complaints and demands, and chances of your complaints having an impact disappear like an iceberg in the Sahara desert.
A best, he’ll be overwhelmed by your list of complaints and won’t even know where to start with making a difference. At worst, he’ll figure you’re just in a bad mood that’ll pass in a few hours—and promptly do nothing at all.
Instead, focus on a single thing at a time. That way, you give him a clear and easy way to make you a little happier, which is something he should definitely want to do. And whatever else is bothering you can wait until next time.
Avoid bringing up the past
Remember that awful thing he did back in January? Of course you do. But awful though it may have been, bringing it up every time you criticize him or want something done isn’t going to help you get through to him.
No matter what the original topic was, when you start bringing up all his past transgressions the conversation inevitably turns into one about the state of your relationship. That can be a good—and sometimes necessary—conversation to have, but it’s not the kind of argument you want to start every time you ask him to change something small.
So if want to get him to call you when he’s working late or return your text messages more quickly, avoid bringing up that one time two years ago when you just started dating and he showed up twenty minutes late to a date. Instead, focus on the matter at hand.
Avoid emotional confrontations
Yes, it sucks that he didn’t do the dishes. Again. And yes, it’s especially frustrating after you’ve had a long day where absolutely everything at work went wrong, you missed the subway on the way home, and someone spilled coffee on your brand new jacket. You have plenty of reason to be in a terrible mood, and nobody could blame you for wanting to vent a little before getting into bed, pulling the covers over your head, and hiding from the world until everything sucks a little bit less.
Still, right now might not be the best time to try and get him to do more work around the house, because with the way you’re feeling it’ll probably turn into a fight that will make your bad day even more miserable. Worse yet, he’ll probably think that your complaints—no matter how valid—are because of your shitty day rather than his shitty housework.
Instead, just ask him for what you need right now (Clean dishes. And ice cream would be nice. Make it chocolate.), and save the real talk for when you’re feeling better. That way, you’ll be able to tell him more effectively about what’s bothering you, and he’ll know that you’re being serious.
Don’t make it personal
Many people respond to criticism by getting defensive, and that’s especially true when you criticize their person rather than their actions. After all, actions are something they can change, but their person is who they are—something they could only change by becoming someone else.
That’s why one of the most important things when offering criticism is to focus on actions rather than personality.
Don’t tell your boyfriend he’s lazy; tell him you want him to take out the trash more often. Don’t tell him he’s inconsiderate; tell him you want him to pay more attention to your feelings. Don’t tell him he’s unreliable… well, you get the idea.
Regardless of the issue, “I think you’re amazing, but that thing you do really bothers me” will always go over better than “Why do you have to be that way?”
Nobody likes confrontations, but sometimes it’s more important to be clear than to be nice.
If something is really bothering you, you have to make sure that he actually understands that it matters to you. Don’t just let him brush it off with a quick half-promise that he’ll forget in an hour, but be clear and concise about what’s bothering you and only end the conversation when you’re sure he’s gotten the message.
Doing that not only ensures that he knows it matters, but also prevents you from having to say the same thing a dozen more times. And while your directness might come as a surprise to him, you can be sure that he’ll prefer it over daily low-level nagging.
When he finally does something you feel he should’ve done a long time ago, your immediate thought might be, “it’s about time!” But tempting though it might be to say just that, doing so will only discourage him from making an effort next time. And conversely, even for something small, showing appreciation will go a long way in convincing him that keeping it up is worth it.
In other words, when your boyfriend does something right, let him know that you appreciate it.
Mind you, I’m not saying you should throw him a party every time he does the dishes, but something as simple as a kiss or a compliment can be a great way to inspire him to keep up the good work.
Listen to him
Finally, communication is a two-way street. If you expect him to listen to you, you’ll need to return the favor.
After all, it’s much easier for him to accept occasional criticism from someone who’s willing to accept criticism herself than from someone who gets defensive at the slightest hint of criticism.