There are countless characteristics you love about your partner. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be with them. But let’s face it -they aren’t perfect. Nobody is. Sometimes the way they act is frustrating and other times the very traits that attracted you to your partner in the first place start to drive you crazy. You don’t want to end the relationship, but you’re starting to resent some of their characteristics. So how do you deal with traits you don’t like in your partner?
For a start, you should show appreciation for the things you do like about your significant other. According to Marriage and Family Therapist Benjamin Caldwell, “One of the things that can destroy a relationship is when you have small resentments that build up over time, and even small expressions of gratitude can make a significant difference.” One of the benefits of showing appreciation is that it softens your negative feelings about your partner. Another is that it makes it easier for the person to accept negative feedback. You realize all the positive characteristics about them, you just wish a few things were different.
When you do discuss traits you don’t like about your partner, be specific. “You’re always messy” is less useful than “It makes me uncomfortable when people come over and there are dirty dishes in the sink.” Saying, “You’re always messy” causes several problems. Try to avoid the words “always” and “never.” Using those words causes the person to think of situations that contradict your statement. Suddenly the conversation becomes them listing times they weren’t messy, rather than addressing the problem at hand. The statement is also blatantly blaming them, whereas saying how it makes you feel when there are dirty dishes is more of a joint problem. Using appreciation and mentioning a problem without being accusatory takes you towards a constructive conversation.
It can also help to find similarities with your partner. Psychologist Suzanne Phillips explains, “Realizing that you are having difficulty because you are “similar” can actually change the perspective and enhance the power of the “We” in decision making.” Let’s say that you both dislike cleaning. There is often tension over who should clean what. Instead of fighting each other, you realize it’s a joint problem, and decide to hire somebody to help keep the house in order. Knowing that you both dislike cleaning will also make you appreciate it more when one of you takes the effort make your place more organized.
Perhaps one of the most valuable activities you can do to deal with traits you dislike in your partner is to take an objective perspective. In the study, “A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time,” researchers aimed to find out the impact of taking an objective perspective on relationship struggles. They had couples write down a specific disagreement they had with each other. Then they imagined they were a neutral third party looking to help their relationship. Partners who did this exercise three times a year, for twenty minutes each time, had higher relationship satisfaction levels than couples that didn’t partake in the exercise.
The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound a cure” holds true for relationships. Prevent problems by showing appreciation for the traits you like in your partner and realizing you might also be exhibiting the very characteristics you dislike about them. When issues still manage to arise from their traits, speak about them with specificity and without being accusatory. Try to look at things from an outside perspective. Don’t let a few frustrating traits make you forget all of the wonderful ones your partner possesses.
 Finkel, E. J., Slotter, E. B., Luchies, L. B., Walton, G. M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal Preserves Marital Quality Over Time. Psychological Science, 24(8), 1595-1601. doi:10.1177/0956797612474938
Carlos Todd, PhD