On February 15, 2008, the first full day of wearing my brand new sparkling engagement ring, I realized something alarming. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to give me advice. Some of it was great (Write in your journal! Have your bridesmaids help you with your thank-you cards!), but some of it was not—and I mean inappropriate, make you squirm, get me out of here, advice.
For example, during a meeting at work one of the organization’s ancient members offered me the following pearls of wisdom:
- Marry a return missionary. (Ignored.)
- Make sure your fiancée doesn’t look at porn, because if he does, he’ll never stop.( O.M.G.)
A mere 3 days later I was forced to sit through a 45 minute lecture with another work associate who walked me through all the reasons why I probably didn’t know my spouse well enough (I assured him we’d dated for several years), and the statistics of how many marriages end in divorce. If it wouldn’t have caused negative repercussions for the organization I worked for, I would have told him to go to hell.
After David and I got home from our honeymoon in Maui and real life started, I did an assessment of all the advice I’d been given and mentally threw out most of it. However, there was one bit that really stuck and I think really is worth something:
Give your spouse a free pass on 5 things you find annoying.
Sounds simple, right?
When you chose to be with your partner I’m sure you had a long list of reasons why. Mine included important things like his green eyes and the fact that he can befriend anyone. I know you had a list like this. And I’m hoping that at some point you also thought about your then boyfriend/girlfriend’s faults and decided that the pluses outweighed the minuses. Then came the Annoying Things.
You know what I’m talking about—and this doesn’t just apply to spouses. Annoying Things are those little habits belonging to the people around us that for no apparent reason drive you completely up the wall. They never rinse out their cereal bowls. They chew too loud. Maybe they’re ridiculously perky at 6 in the morning, or they clip their toenails on the couch. And suddenly these little things are a big deal and are taking away from your relationship with that person. You can be sitting there—surrounded by everything you ever wanted in life (someone you love, a happy home, and a giant bowl of stir fry) but all you can think about is the way they slurp their noodles. You know it’s ridiculous, but you just can’t help it! It bugs!
You’ve got two options here. You can say “Quit slurping your noodles/Clipping your toenails/Whistling through your nose when your sleep/ Singing lyrics wrong/etc.!” And end up feeling more bugged, only now your spouse is on the defensive and perhaps brings up something annoying that you do. OR, you could invoke what I like to call the 5 Annoying Things clause.
Here’s how to use this important bit of marital wisdom:
1. Make a list of things you love about your spouse. Remember the reasons you’re with them. Spouse appreciation is a big deal, so do this even if they’re not doing Annoying Things.
2. Remember your own flaws. No matter how perfect you think you are, know that you are doing at least 5+ things that your spouse finds annoying.
David and I haven’t shared our 5 Annoying Things lists with each other, but I can imagine that his looks something like this: changing clothes repeatedly when I’m nervous to go somewhere, being able to decimate a clean kitchen within 6 minutes, never answering my cell phone, having terrible taste in music, and my ability to tune out everything (including small kitchen fires) when America’s Next Top Model is on.
3. Make your Free Pass List. Make a mental list (it’s not important enough to commit to paper) of Annoying Things you are willing to quit obsessing over, and keep it secret.
4. Think of reasons why the Annoying Things may actually be endearing. For example, during our first year of marriage David and I had conversations like the following about 3 times a week:
JENNA: (Walking into the room) You’ll never believe what I saw on Animal Planet. There are monkey in Japan who have learned how to hot tub during the winter to keep warm. They look hysterical!
DAVID: (Working on his computer) Uh huh.Really.
30 seconds of silence.
DAVID: (Coming to) Wait, what did you say?
You can see where I’m coming from. Here I am sharing completely interesting and engaging bits of knowledge and he has the nerve to keep his mind focused on his work. Really. However, once I started using the Free Pass list I realized that this delayed reaction thing was actually quite endearing. David’s mind seems to constantly be churning out new ideas, programs, etc. and his intelligence is one of the things I love the most about him.
5. Work the free pass. The next time the annoying thing comes up (and let the list be flexible) remember the list and just let it go. Hallelujiah. Freedom.
Right now I’m sitting across the table from David at a Starbucks. Just told him what I’m writing about and he said “You’re worth 10 Annoying Things.” I knew I married well.