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  • Lovers whove been together awhile tend almost universally to get maddened by what

  • look (on the surface) like certain absurdly small matters. An otherwise quite reasonable

  • and decent person might admit to a range of acute sensitivities around some of their partner’s

  • rather minor habitsand a tendency swiftly to lose their temper on encountering them:

  • they press far too hard on the chopping board; they don’t put their seat belt on until

  • after the car is started; in their handwriting ‘b’ and ‘h’ are practically indistinguishable;

  • they squeeze the toothpaste tube the wrong way (pressing at the neck rather than the

  • bottom); they use the word the wordtragicto meansad’; they leave drawers fractionally

  • open; when they drink a glass of water they never drink it right down to the end but always

  • tip out the last few drops into the kitchen sink. Our reactions to such things can seem

  • wildly out of proportion. We may get extremely worked upand then feel mean and possibly

  • insane. In quieter moments, we may wonder how we could ever let such insignificant matters

  • get to us so much. Rather than tell ourselves we are simply idiotic (though of course we

  • are all idiots at heart), we should lavish thought and time on the logic of our tiny

  • points of ire. The little thingthe small irritantis always a symbol of a large

  • and in truth very important issue operating in the background of a relationship, though

  • unfortunately it’s not always easy for us to put our finger on what the real issue is

  • and therefore to give a calm and accurate account of what is, in fact, probably a genuine

  • cause for concern. Ironically, were very generous about symbols when they turn up outside

  • our own lives, particularly in art: at college we might write a thoughtful essay on what

  • sunflowers meant to Van Gogh or why the colour blue was so important to Picasso. With these

  • artists, we are generous. We don’t think they were idiotic to get so obsessed with

  • little things. We expend our imaginative effort to trying to work out what the details meant.

  • We should take a lesson from this patient and investigative approach and do for the

  • important little details of our own emotional lives some of what art historians did for

  • the details of their canvases. For the vigorous pressing on the chopping board, it’s not

  • the potential damage to the wood that’s in essence important. We could probably meet

  • the expense of replacing the board once a year or so. But our partner’s overeager

  • effort (as we see it) is a tiny moment in which we catch sight of a much more troubling

  • and larger quality in them: a sense of indelicacy, roughness and lack of restraint. And we fear

  • this side of them not so much in their life in general, but in relation to ourselves:

  • the real fear is that they won’t realise when they are hurting us. Our worry isn’t

  • for the board, but for ourselves. With the seat belt, the real point at issue might be

  • around authority. We were always taught to put the belt on before starting the engine.

  • We obeyed. We have learned to do theright thing’. Why then do they feel they can get

  • away with breaking the rules? What is this slightly arrogant, entitled sense of being

  • different? The absurdly tiny detail of precisely when the seatbelt is fastened becomes the

  • carrier of a grand and in its way properly legitimate concern: will my partner ever understand

  • the fear ofdoing the wrong thingand sympathise generously with it; will they stop

  • feeling they are above the rules? Equally important issues arebehind the scenes

  • evident everywhere. The few drops of water the partner empties casually from the glass

  • are not about wastage (in a lifetime it might add up to one bathful only) but the fear that

  • they might treat us in a similar fashion and (without a second thought, after they have

  • drunk the best of our years) throw us away. Around the handwriting: their cheery Post-it

  • note on the kitchen table on Saturday morninggone to buy bread’ (which could be pedantically

  • deciphered asgone to buy head’) doesn’t genuinely confuse us. Rather, we resent their

  • lack of worry about being misunderstood. We resent the implication (embodied in this tiny

  • detail) that they don’t have to take special care to make themselves clear to us. We see

  • in the note a lifetime of misunderstanding and loneliness. So we are right to worry.

  • The problem is the way we handle our anxieties. Ideally, we wouldn’t simply curse and get

  • irritable. We would patiently transfer our attention and concern away from the minor

  • instance, the symbol, towards the real nucleus of our complaint, which we would lay out with

  • care, sympathy and a touch of humour. Once the real issues in our relationships are raised,

  • the annoying details may be less difficult to live with, because, most probably, our

  • partner won’t be indifferent to our articulated worries. With the riskiest symbols decoded,

  • love stands a chance of becoming ever more mutual, peaceable

  • and secure.

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Lovers whove been together awhile tend almost universally to get maddened by what

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B1 US partner tiny belt fear board seat belt

Why Tiny Things About Our Partners Drive Us Mad

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2017/05/24
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