A recent example: He was texting someone while we were hanging out, but it was just one text to someone he hasn’t spoken to in a while. He could tell that I was annoyed, even though I remained silent, and he asked me what was wrong. I said “nothing,” because I was still annoyed but I didn’t want to blow up at him. He continued asking me and I got even more annoyed until finally I told him why I was upset. The second I explained he started to defend himself. This almost always happens when we argue – he keeps asking why I’m annoyed, I refuse to explain until finally I am forced to, and he gets upset regardless and it turns into an argument.
I told him this and he reasoned that, if I don’t tell him what’s wrong, I’ll bring it up later. This is partly true, which is why he’s started forcing me to express my feelings right away. However, I’m not happy that, when I do, he reacts poorly. I understand that a lot of these arguments start because I get easily annoyed, but it’s unfair that when I do explain what I feel he always tries to reason why it was “wrong” for me to feel that way and doesn’t offer a solution that actually helps the situation. It’s like he is always setting out to debate with me and prove himself right instead of help the relationship.
HELP! — Annoyed By the Little Things
You sound very hard to please. You admit that you get too easily annoyed at little things (and, yes, your boyfriend sending one text to someone he hasn’t spoken to in a while is a “little thing”), you react to these annoyances by being passive-aggressive and basically forcing your boyfriend to ask you what’s wrong. Then, when he tries to defend his actions, you get hurt and angry and engage in an argument with him. Over something little and dumb! You want him to offer solutions, but really there are only two solutions: he stops doing little things that annoy you; or you stop getting so upset by the little things.
Realistically, there will always be little things he does that annoy you because he’s human and apparently you err on the side of intolerance. You know that about yourself (which is good–self-awareness is a very important thing), so it’s YOUR job to work on being more tolerant or find assertive ways of expressing your intolerance in a way that gets it off your chest without demanding an apology or inviting an argument, unless these little annoyances are truly battles you want to have. (Remember: In a relationship, you must pick your battles).
Here’s an example: Your boyfriend does a little thing that annoys you, like texts (or replies to) a friend he hasn’t spoken to in a while. When he’s done, if this is a battle you choose not to pick, you could say, “I know it’s not a big deal at all, but I just got annoyed when you diverted your attention from me for a minute to text your friend. I realize that’s not something that should warrant an over-reaction on my part and I’m working on being more tolerant of these kinds of things, but I just wanted you to know how I’m feeling in the moment and that I know the issue is mine to work on.” You’re acknowledging your feelings so your boyfriend doesn’t have to pry it out of you, but you’re also owning responsibility for them and not putting him on the defense.
If, however, you feel like this IS a battle worth having — like if you really don’t want your boyfriend to ever text anyone while in your company — you need to own that and tackle it in the moment. You might say: “Hey, I know you haven’t talked to your friend in a while, but when we’re together I expect all your attention and don’t like it when you take a minute to text someone else. It makes me feel [fill in the blank].” Then offer whatever solution would satisfy you, like, “Maybe next time, you can wait until I’m in the bathroom or after we’re done hanging out to text your friend. Or, you could ask me if it’s ok if you take a minute to tell your friend that you’re busy but will get in touch later.” Just understand, that by picking this battle, you ARE putting your boyfriend on the defense. And he’s certainly entitled to defend himself/his actions or disagree with your demands. And understand that even silence — especially when it’s accompanied by passive-aggressive nonverbal cues — is picking a battle. If you have trouble controlling your passive-aggressive nonverbal cues, don’t be nonverbal. Use the tactic I suggest above: tell your boyfriend that you’re upset, but that you realize what you’re upset about isn’t worth an argument and you’re going to work on your intolerance because this particular issue is your problem, not his.
Basically, every time your boyfriend does a little thing that annoys you, you have to decide immediately if it’s worth having a argument over. If it isn’t, you express your annoyance right away but take the stance that your being annoyed is a bigger problem than the actual act that annoyed you and you realize that and are working on it. If the little thing is actually something you want to debate, you go with the
second tactic I suggest and offer some potential solutions that would satisfy you with the understanding that your boyfriend may not be open to those solutions and that the two of you are going to have to find a compromise or simply agree to disagree.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, well, that’s the price you pay for sweating the small stuff. You can’t walk around being overly-sensitive and passive-agressive and expect your partner to just suck it up and deal without getting annoyed back at you, and defensive, and frustrated. Until you let the small stuff roll off you back and you don’t fume or pout or whatever other nonverbal signal you’re sending that indicates you’re upset, this is how it has to be. Intolerance and over-sensitivity is a problem of yours. You’ve acknowledged that and that’s a great first step. But now comes the next step of actually working on that problem, trying to overcome it, and, in the meantime, not letting it adversely affect your relationship so much.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.