Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Watched Pot Does Boil (Over)

Hmm, well that last post got a lot of response (for my blog anyways!) I kind of figured it would. In my experience, people are usually very eager to talk about what is "normal" in terms of relationships. It's such a hard thing to gauge or assess when you're so close to your own situation- it's basically impossible to be objective.

What I often think is that marital problems of the more slow-simmering, daily irritant type are sometimes a bigger deal than the giant, blow-up issues like cheating or having secret credit cards with enormous balances. The little stuff can and often does stay unsaid for so long, sometimes, and usually because the person bottling things up thinks they're doing the mature, unselfish thing: not rocking the boat over trivial, petty stuff that probably wasn't done with any malice anyways. However, almost inevitably those little petty things boil over all at once, causing both parties to kind of step back in shock and say, "WHHAAA? I thought we were FINE!" And the attacked party to demand, fairly enough, "If you're so mad why didn't you SAY something?"

So in this way, I think the little stuff can be more dangerous than the big stuff. I know this is a widely acknowledged fact and I'm not announcing anything brilliant or new, but it bears repeating, I think.

Therefore, what I'm curious about, as long as we're on the topic of how we deal with relationship issues, is this: do you think it's better to come right out and SAY every little thing as soon as you feel mad about it, to prevent the Simmering Rage problem, or is it better to shut up about it if you can, to avoid coming off as a nagging, harping, chronically dissatisfied partner/spouse? I've tried both ways with varying degrees of success, and I'm honestly not sure which makes for a healthier, happier relationship. So tell me!

*Oh and remember it IS National Delurking Day, so even if you don't think you have anything to contribute to the relationship conversation, just say hi, ok?

34 comments:

Fran said...

I'm more middle of the road on this topic. If it is an issue we have discussed already and it hasn't improved it makes me madder and I tend to blow up about it. If it is really a "me" issue I tend to swallow it. Some things I have just had to accept that we feel too differently about to come to agreement on them. that being said, I don't think it is good to bottle up everything and sometimes just saying them out loud helps you feel better about it.

Mommy Daisy said...

I find for most things, it's not worth mentioning. Chose your battles, so to speak.

It's when an issue comes up over and over, and I feel that mentioning it will help in some way, then I'll share those things. Otherwise I believe that most things are just hurtful, so why say them.

Just my point of view from almost 10 years of marriage and 15 years together with the same wonderful man.

Jess said...

I try to pick my battles but also not let things simmer. If I'm upset about something, sometimes I just say so, but sometimes I have enough self-control to think about it in the bigger picture and decide if it's really worth talking about. I also try really, really hard (this one of my main self-improvement things) to focus only on what's actually being discussed and not tangent off into a bunch of OTHER only slightly related issues. I have had varying degrees of success with this so far.

Emily said...

I think it depends on how MUCH it irritates you. There are little things that I think you have to let go or otherwise you really would be nagging. But sometimes my husband will say or do something, and it's a small thing, but I have to say it right then that it bothers me.

Also, I think the way you go about things has a lot do to with it. When I am mad about something or irritated I might say something rude or that I don't mean. If I can just sit back for a minute and bring it up later I'm more rational and it's taken better by him.

So...I guess you shouldn't let things simmer forever, but you shouldn't neccessarily always jump on something right away either.

LoriD said...

Homer goes through these phases where he nit-picks absolutely everything that bothers him about me. I HATE it and it's pretty much the only time I lose my temper. I'm a pick your battles kind of gal and if there's something that really bothers me, I try to bring it up in a way that won't get his back up or bring it up when I know he's in a good mood.

Tess said...

What an incredibly interesting topic. I will be checking the comments! Mostly because I DON'T KNOW what is best on this! GAH!

I think my natural tendency, by personality, is to let more things go than not. And it's doubled, like you said, by some kind of sick PRIDE or self-image or whatever that I hold as a Laid-Back Person.

But, some things ARE worth mentioning. I guess I think the WAY you mention things is more important than the FREQUENCY. Like, making it about YOU, instead of about THEM, and also keeping the person separate from the action. That is huge for me.

Giselle said...

I tend to let things slide...but only if I can actually let it slide and not allow it to simmer. If he KEEPS leaving the milk out of the fridge, and I find that rather than being mildly annoyed at having to put it back, I may then bring it up. I feel he deserves to know that it is bugging me to the point of explosion BEFORE I explode.

But usually it is of the "pick your battles" variety. Some things I just have to acknowledge are just part of living with someone else.

Mimi said...

I REALLY want to say each thing as it comes up, but (from me, at least) it comes across as being super naggy. So I tend to let a lot of things go unsaid. Some of them become less irritating with time and, you betcha, some of them build up to bigger deals over time. So I guess I don't know what's right.

Scottish Twins said...

I think this is where having a great understanding of how your spouse works in crucial. I am a "say how I am feeling no matter how angry I am in the heat of the moment" kind of person. I realize it's a flaw, and I am trying to work on it. My husband, however, is an "ignore the problem until he can sort it out in his head" type of person, who then has calm, collected discussions about problems sometimes days after the initial confrontation.

I think his way is better, even though it irritates me to no end. Because I like to resolve things immediately, I feel like he doesn't care when he chooses to walk away from the problem.

This is when I think it's important to step back and think about how your spouse operates. Knowing that he likes to think before speaking and telling myself that keeps me from getting upset. Him knowing that I often say things without thinking keeps him from taking too much offense. We balance each other well in that way.

In a perfect world we would all brush it off and wait to have important conversations when we are all calm, or choose not to even discuss them because days later we realize it is trivial in the grand scheme of things. But in reality, people are people I guess.

Sorry - I'm rambling.

Swistle said...

Oh, I'm not sure either! I have some things where I will say it INSTANTLY AND STRONGLY THE SECOND IT FIRST HAPPENS---but very few. Like, the first time Paul tossed out things that belonged to me, without asking, and the first time he tickled me and wouldn't stop. I hesitate even to give examples, because everyone's going to be TOTALLY DIFFERENT on what's intolerable and what's no big deal, but both of those things are intolerable to me.

There are some things where something bugs me but I've just come to realize that it's going to be a part of the household anyway and I've come to terms with it as a part of what I got when I chose this particular guy to marry: I get his humor and the way he always understands what I'm explaining and the way he can use affectionate humor to defuse a situation, but I also get someone who will move a piece of furniture without cleaning under it, or will change a lightbulb in a hard-to-reach fixture without taking the opportuniy to dump the dead bugs out of the fixture. It's exasperating, but meh.

Then I have a ton of stuff where if it only happens sometimes and it's not that big of a deal, I'll think, "Everyone screws up now and then and I wouldn't want HIM to make a big deal of this if _I_ did it," and so I let it go. But if something is happening every single time and it happens for awhile, I'll say something about it---and if he agrees to change and doesn't change, I'll mention it again. Like if there's a little food-crust on a dish or two after he does dishes, and it happens occasionally, I'm not going to come down on him like a sword from heaven, but if it's quite a bit of food-crust and it's every single time, there needs to be discussion and I'll keep mentioning it until it changes or until we come up with a trade that involves me taking over the disputed chore and him doing one of my chores in exchange.

I find it helps to be very FRANK. Like, "Hey, I know I keep bringing this up, and I hate the idea that you're going to feel NAGGED about it. I'm not sure what to do, because on one hand you SAID you were going to change this, and on the other hand you AREN'T. So do you want me to keep reminding you, or do you want to change your mind and say you don't think it needs changing after all, in which case I'll stop [and/or implement plan B, such as exchanging chores]?"

Swistle said...

Oh, as hard as this is to believe, I have thought of something ELSE I want to say, which is something that has helped me with any discussion where I fear it is going to turn into something where I bring up TONS of RELATED things. What I do is I relate it from the very start of the discussion. Like, I'll say that I want to complain about Item A, but that one reason Item A is driving me so crazy is because it seems to be part of a bigger GROUP of problems. I say that stuff at the very beginning when my tone is still calm and measured and I'm laying out my points, rather than later in the discussion when things are heated and it would seem as if I was pulling out a bunch of unrelated stuff in anger.

Pickles and Dimes said...

Depends on the situation. I'm definitely more laid back than J, who will point out every little thing, so I tend to let things go because I don't want to be like him.

But if something really bugs me, I bring it up right away.

Misty said...

Um, Hi!

For me, whether or not I bring something up depends on how upset I am about it. Some fleeting thing that makes me roll my eyes and think he is a not-too-bright dweeb? I am probably going to blow it off and not ruminate on it.

But! Even if that same incident happens and I *DO* ruminate on it, I am probably going to say something. Because addressing my concern is better than arguing with him in my head about it.

That is just the way I am and I think it works for us. Your results may vary. :)

Hillary said...

I'm all for getting things out in the open. I have a hot temper. It flares up and is over before you know it. Generally speaking, I find this better than allowing things to stew and simmer. Though, I will admit that I struggle with saying things in anger that I don't entirely mean -- or at least using a tone that is unnecessarily nasty.

d e v a n said...

I'm not sure. If it's a little thing that I might forget about and therefore never "nag" him about, then I might just not say anything. However, he was making HIS half of the bed and leaving MY half unmade for months and I never said ANYTHING until I yelled at him about it in a fit of rage (as proof that he doesn't care about me at all - yes I am so rational...) and since then he has made the bed all the way, so. Still not sure. He might have preferred a rational conversation. haha. But it just didn't seem like that big of a deal until it WAS A BIG DEAL.

bananafana said...

it depends but generally I find that all of the little things fall into just a couple of categories for us. If I start to notice that several things that bother me in one "category" happen close together, then I find a time to bring it up. I've found that I can never bring it up if it's just happened since it will lead to a fight but in a calm moment I can say "hey ______ has been happening a lot/more frequently/less frequently" and then we can talk about it. I've also found that it helps to have an idea or two about what can be done to make it better. I don't expect my husband to hear that something bothers me and then come up with a solution on his own - it's been really hard for me but I'm learning to ask for what I want rather than stewing that he didn't magically figure it out

Jana said...

I'm a stew about it kind of gal. I stew about it until I can't take it anymore or until the issue resolves. My husband thinks I bring up things all the time or as they happen, but he doesn't know that whatever he's done to upset me (like putting his dirty dishes in the sink for me to rinse and put in the dishwasher - argh) is something that happens over and over. In an effort to not nag, I suppress it and then it all boils over one day. So that's me. And I'm not much help to you at all, I'm afraid to say.

Fiona Picklebottom said...

I tend to let things go because most of the time, it's not worth an argument. BUT I don't generally stew about things and I can see where not bringing something up wouldn't work for people who do tend to stew about things.

Shelly said...

I think it's better to bring things up if they're big enough to cause real problems. If it will lead to a scene like you describe, with one person saying, "WHA? I thought things were fine!", then things should have been said beforehand.

parkingathome said...

I haven't been able to figure it out. I've tried both ways too, as has my husband. I think it all depends on how it's worded, and the receptiveness of the other person. Maybe we should try some sort of nightly review of good and bad, like you lay down in bed and say "Honey, thank you for setting up the coffee for me, it annoys me when you don't think before you speak and you say strange crap that doesn't make sense, you're really awesome at getting the baby to bed, you need to stop throwing wet towels on the floor" kind of thing. Then the other person goes "But! Oh well, i- HEY! ah, thank YOU" and it's schizophrenic and beautiful. We can top it off with "Good night, I love you"

Michele said...

I think a relationship is best when there is a balance between opening your mouth and shoving things down inside. Pick your battles and whatnot. Unfortunately, I sometimes (usually) have difficulties with keeping my mouth shut.

Happy delurking day!

Banana said...

I try to walk the line and do what works best for the situation (which I'm not great at). My husband hates feeling nagged (not that other people love it, but it is A Thing with my husband), so I am mindful of that when deciding whether or not to address something. To try to keep an issue from moving over to the nagging side of things, I tend to try to nip it in the bud and address it right away, but if I know it won't bother me too much I usually let it go. Hows that for a non-answer!

Marie Green said...

Well, I do BOTH THINGS, both in equally ineffective and unhealthy ways. So, I suck. Which could explain the DISTANCE that I've been feeling from David lately.

Guess I'll need to be a little more, ah, pleasant to live with. *slaps forehead*

Shelly Overlook said...

I'm a pick your battles kind of girl. But that means I tend to let some stuff build up that wouldn't be a big deal if I just dealt with it immediately, rather than let it simmer with several other "no big deals" until I am severely irritated. I am working on just breathing and trying to let stuff go. I'll let you know how that works out (ha!).

Kelsey said...

I struggle w/ that balance because I think bringing things up before they are HUGE BIG DEALS is generally a good philosophy, but also not picking on every little annoyance is good. And what I tend to do in reality is get really really upset about something when Matt happens to be away from home (like when Michael was a baby he would give him a night time bottle - helpful - but then leave it on the counter w/out rinsing or cleaning it and I would find it that way in the morning - infuriating) and then by the time I see him again I'm not feeling so mad and I don't see the point in bringing it up.

Jennifer, Playgroups Are No Place For Children said...

I vacillate between saying everything that annoys me to trying very hard to be more diplomatic and thoughtful about the things I think and feel. Which is better? I HAVE NO IDEA. When I say what's on my mind, his feelings get hurt and I sound like a nag. When I try to change my own thinking, I still have the irritation stuck somewhere in the recesses of my brain and it always comes back later as a huge blowup...where, he gets his feelings hurt and I sound like a nag.

I'm not really a very good wife.

LA and BD said...

Hi!

I *try* to stop and do the 'will this bother me in 5 days' thing before I say anything. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.

Katy said...

When we had pre-marital counseling (Hi! I was married in the Catholic Church!) our priest talked to us about "cap on the toothpaste" kinds of issues. The kind of thing where it isn't a big deal, but it wears on you until it is a big deal--he told us to nip that stuff in the bud. Now days we just tell the other, "this is a cap on the toothpaste kind of thing" and the other one knows exactly what we're talking about.

Anonymous said...

My hubby came from a family where there was a lot of dishonesty and hiding stuff so for him being upfront and honest about *everything* is a real biggie. We decided at the start of the relationship that we would be completely honest and upfront with each other, no matter what. So if there is something that the other person is doing that annoys or upsets us, we speak up about it at the time. I know a lot of people would rather opt to keep quiet, but then it is so easy for things to build up and - as you said - boil over all at once. We feel it is better to deal with things as and when they happen. Obviously the way that you deal with it is very important - it mustn't be done in an acusatory way etc. I know it doesn't work for a lot of people (the other couples in our pre-marital counselling class were horrified), but it works for us.

bat7mess said...

I have not read through the other comments yet, so I have a feeling what I'm going to say will be very repetitive. I think you have to find some sort of balance. Don't sweat the small stuff, and when something really is bothering you, bring it up in a non-blow up kind of a way. I've only been married for 7 years (with the same person for almost 13 years, though), but I think one of the keys to a happy relationship is about having realistic expectations. I try to see my husband as a package. There are some things in there that I don't care for or that drive me batty, but I wouldn't switch packages for anything because of all of the amazing things in there. I always try to keep both of these things (expectations and package)in mind. I know this was more of a general answer than a specific opinion on your previous post...

Daycare Girl said...

Haven't read the others, but here's my two cents:
I work really hard to not be a nagging wife- it's one of my biggest fears. So if I'm mad at him for small stuff, I complain to my girlfriends instead. He doesn't really like that, because he's worried that they will just think he's a big jerk. But as long as i get to complain to somebody, I feel better and I can let it go. And I make sure I pick people who know how I am and that my marriage really is happy, so I don't come off as terribly unhappy and about to leave him or something.

Sara said...

I try to address things as they arise, as long as the situation is appropriate. But I try to remember that lots of nitpicking doesn't make for a cozy loving relationship. And that often the little stuff I am annoyed about have more to do with my mood rather than what my husband is actually doing. So I try to keep that stuff to myself.

Oh, and HI! delurking...

Morgan S. said...

I am delurking! I enjoy reading your blog, thanks for sharing!

Nose in a Book said...

I'm the opposite way round - I talk freely about the little things that annoy me, but bottle up the big stuff. This has the unfortunate effect of completely confusing TT about what actually matters to me. We had a big row at the weekend because he thought I'd asked him to do about a thousand little things, like, RIGHT NOW, because they were annoying me. It took a while to get through that actually, most of that stuff didn't matter.

We're working on a database of jobs to do, with priorities and costs and timescales now, to prevent that from happening again :)