Here’s when arguing can be good for your relationship


Written by:



Here is the thing about being romantically involved with another person: inevitably, they are going to do something that really irritates you. They are going to continue to irritate you repeatedly over the course of your relationship until acted upon by an outside force (which is really just you telling them that what they’re doing is bothering you). This is a fundamental truth of being in a romantic relationship.


Relationship irritations are those little things your partner does that get on your nerves. For me, it’s when my husband leaves every single kitchen cabinet open after rummaging through them. Inevitably, the next time I walk into the kitchen, I feel obligated to close them all. For others, it may be their partner leaving their shoes in the middle of the floor when they get home and not moving them out of the way (in my house, my husband and I are both guilty of this, so it is probably only an issue for our cats to traverse).

Address it or ignore it?

When a relationship irritation presents itself, we have two primary options: we can address the issue, or we can try to ignore it. Research has found that 40% of irritations faced by people in a romantic relationship go unaddressed. Common wisdom recommends you should “pick your battles” with your partner, and learn to let the little things go. But is that really the case? To better understand where this wisdom falls short, I am going to introduce you to two couples who are experiencing relationship irritations.

SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.

2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.


Our first couple, Jodi and Tony, are married and have lived together for 6 years. They recently bought a new coffee maker that can make both single-serve coffee and a pot of coffee, which is very convenient! Every morning this week, Jodi has woken up first, and has gone to make coffee where she takes the old coffee pod out of the single-serve experience, and leaves it next to the coffee maker instead of throwing it out. Now, when Tony goes to take out Jodi’s pod from earlier today, he is forced to throw out both her most recent pod and the pod she left next to the coffee maker, and to clean up the remnants left underneath that pod on the counter. Naturally, this is frustrating for Tony, but it’s a stupid little thing that he can just deal with—it takes about a minute to handle and he just does it without thinking too much about it.


Our second couple, John and Taylor, are also married and have been living together for two years. For some reason, recently, whenever the toilet paper runs out in their shared bathroom, Taylor will start the new roll and leave it on top of the finished roll instead of throwing the old one away and putting the new roll on the holder. When John goes into the bathroom, he gets mildly irritated. “Why wouldn’t he just do it right the first time?” he thinks as he replaces the finished roll with the newly-started roll. He thinks back and realizes that this is now the second time that this has happened, and it’s frustrating. As he exits the bathroom, he sees Taylor and brings up his new irritation. “Would you mind just putting the new roll on the holder next time?”


Both of our couples are experiencing rather frivolous, or minor problems. Not throwing out the old coffee pod or not properly replacing the toilet papers are rather silly issues. It makes sense that you probably shouldn’t make a huge deal out of it, right? Well, sort of.

The chilling effect

Our friend Tony is going about his life without telling Jodi that what she is doing is bothering him a bit. Every time he has to complete this little extra labor when making coffee, he thinks about the minor hassle of having to clean up after his wife. After some time, he wishes he had just brought it up the first time because now it’s been a month and he doesn’t feel like he can talk about it with her. Now, other irritants he experiences with his partner are more difficult to talk through with a clear head, too. If he were to bring it up with her, he may have a more emotional reaction because he has been stewing about it and all of these irritants are starting to merge into a bigger problem. Bringing it up at this point would be making a huge deal out of it.


John, on the other hand, was quickly able to identify that his partner’s behavior was something that was starting to bother him. Instead of letting it continue, he was able to address the issue and ask Taylor to be more conscious of how his minor behavior was affecting him. If he were a more skilled communicator, he could probably have used humor to address the issue, acknowledging that it was rather small and silly, but really needed to not happen again. In approaching his partner quickly and plainly, he was able to avoid making a huge deal out of it.


One theory that explains why it becomes more difficult to address relationship irritations over time is called the chilling effect. When we choose to not address a relationship concern, we are giving our partner power in the relationship. This power provides our partner with the increased ability to shape the dynamics in the relationship—their behavior affects how you behave and respond to them. Not talking to your partner increases your perception of their power, which increases their power, and decreases the likelihood that you will address future concerns, perpetuating the cycle.


Research has also found that as people continue to experience a particular irritation, they will start to experience intrusive or ruminative thoughts about those irritations, and then will be less likely to bring up these concerns with their partner. Even worse, they will continue to experience those intrusive thoughts about the issue over time, which may lead to more intensely negative feelings about the issue and their partner in the future.


In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that when you avoid talking about irritations in your relationships, your behavior and demeanor around your partner may change. This change in mannerisms will inform your partner that something is bothering you, even if you don’t say something. So, without being explicit, your behaviors in response to the irritation may implicitly let your partner know you are irritated by them. For example, when my partner does something that bothers me as I am cooking, I may start stepping a bit more aggressively in the kitchen and sighing loudly. Without telling him outright that what he has done has bothered me, he knows he has bothered me because of my own behavioral response.


When your partner does something annoying one time, it’s probably not worth bringing up right away. When you start to notice a pattern in your partner’s behaviors and feel yourself responding to that pattern emotionally, it may be time to have a brief, unemotional conversation. Express to your partner that what they are doing is really bothering you, and make sure you do so before you start to get really emotionally charged about their behavior. Try and be light-hearted and casual when talking about it with your partner—these are minor issues and are, in fact, not worthy of an outright argument. So, you don’t have to sweat the small stuff, but by ignoring repeated irritants, you can turn the small stuff into a bigger issue.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.


This article originally appeared on Quick&DirtyTips and was syndicated by

More from MediaFeed:

54 questions to ask before getting married


Susan Piver’s book, The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do,” has helped thousands of couples connect — or realize they should split.

We asked members of Millionaire Single Moms, our Facebook group, to share what questions they would ask before remarriage — plus what questions they would ask a boyfriend or girlfriend now.




A shared vision for a life together is important.


Do you do everything together, or does each partner have their independence and unique hobbies and friends? Is alone time important?


monkeybusinessimages/ istockphoto


Deal breakers, here.




A dirty dish in the sink has been known to be the straw that broke

many a marraige. That said, frank, loving discussions can help set expectations.


Nattakorn Maneerat/istockphoto



  1. Does he or she know the answer?
  2. Are you comfortable with the answer?

How much is too much debt?


Shows the level of interest in personal finance.




See above. Credit in a relationship is a big deal, and affects your ability to reach goals like buying a home or car or plan a wedding.


This question may be hard for some people to articulate, so be patient with the answer. A similar question with the same answers may be: What are your values?


Childhood models for money management are a good indicator of a person’s adult habits, but you can’t judge a person by their parents.




Careful, you might come off as a murderer/gold-digger, but still a good Q.

How to find affordable life insurance.



designer491/ istockphoto


Answer may showcase empathy, or stupidity.


photosbyhope / istockphoto


This question is less about money, and more about ambition, drive, dicipline.


alfexe / istockphoto


1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.

2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.


:Ivan Nadaski / iStock


Success is sexy! Big talk with no action is a big turn-off.


Resilience = important and attractive. Also, it is interesting to note whether a person has the humility to admit defeat, struggle or hardship.


Prostock-Studio / istockphoto


A common sensibility about personal finance, saving and spending is a big deal in a long-term relationship.


Lucille_Cottin /istockphoto


Close to friends and family? Does one partner need to be close to a certain location for a job? City or rural, mountains or beach?




If you both envision lots of downtime during retirement that can bring you together. Or, if you both plan to be very active with work and service activities, that can bond, too. Or, you may agree to live different lifestyles in your retirement years.


Love languages are a big one here. One of the seminal relationship books of all time: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.




Asking your loved one to walk you through the past few years of their life and provide more detail around how their circumstances or actions align with their dreams may sound like a job interview question, but it can be enlightening.

Recent history is the biggest indicator of future outcomes. Getting over divorce or breakup, being a better parent, financial setbacks like bankruptcy are all part of a human life. How you get through them and overcome them show who you are.


If personal growth is important to you, you likely want to be with someone who is also actively working to improve themselves.


IvelinRadkov / istockphoto


Self-awareness is important — and sexy.


Deagreez / istockphoto


An answer to this question can display humility, growth and give the question asker insight into what shaped this potential partner.


Not only is the answer to this question important, but the ability to answer it with clarity also shows that the person has thought about who they are and what is important to them.


Chinnapong / istockphoto


Again, a way to express who you are shows maturity, and what matters to you.


Unsplash / John Baker


Intellectual curiosity may be a deal-breaker.


The answer may be “a little of both” but this is a good, provoking conversation that can help you both learn about one another.


GaudiLab / istockphoto


Parenting styles can make or break a relationship, especially if the kids are still at home.


If you have a blended family, your step-children’s mother or father will be a big part of your life — and the relationship your husband or wife has with them today makes all the difference in how happy your home is.


Different parenting styles can make or break a relationship.


This question may come off as loaded with baggage from a previous relationship or old wound — which is OK. It’s on your mind and important to you.




And of course you will be prepared to answer the same question for him.


This is a bold, honest question that may make a potential husband or wife nervous — or grateful.





This has broken up many a relationship. Some parents love the snuggle all night, others resent the cramped space.


Different religions is a common reason for breakup and divorce. Front-loading these discussions can be helpful.


Pra-chid / istockphoto


Hard to know unless you live through it, but worthwhile conversation to understand a boyfriend or girlfriend’s inner workings.


jarenwicklund / istockphoto


The answer may be a combination of goals, past experience with a previous partner, reflection on childhood experiences. Also, if your partner has not considered this topic, that is telling, too.


Unsplash / Marcus Spiske


If stay-at-home parenting is your goal, better get this one out there now.




Sometimes, you just have to live through it with the other person to know — so this is a question for you to keep an eye out for the answer through behavior, rather than an explicit verbal response. Even if the person’s ways of stress relief are hard for you to comprehend, if they can be honest and self-aware in their answer, that shows maturity.


AaronAmat / iStock


Some couples of different religions are compatible because they are both equally passionate — or ambivilant — about their faith. Other times, a difference in religous practice drives boyfriends and girlfirends, husbands and wives apart. Or, if one person is committed to deeply exploring their spiritual life and the other is not, that can be a deal-breaker.


lakshmiprasad S / iStock


1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.

2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.


6okean / istockphoto


Winner-takes-all? Compromise and negotiation?


julief514 / istockphoto


Can we all really answer that 100%? Isn’t it a lifelong struggle? Interesting conversation, though.


Addictions, including to alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, sex, gambling, porn, shopping, social media and work. A frank talk about family history, recovery, co-dependence and related topics will open deep droves of information and discussion — if both aparties are open to discussion.


The root of this question is really about whether the other person is self-reflective and growth-oriented.


Ridofranz/ iStock


If one person is not fit, and the other is … well ….


Big lifestyle differences can break a relationship — while similar, healthy eating and fitness can bring you closer together.


Professional stability, ambition and success may be important to you. Even if not, a difference in career objectives and trajectories can be a relationship challenge.


If personal fulfillment through your professional career is important, you likely will want someone with the same goals. Similarly, if you are working for the weekend, a highly ambitious partner may inspire you — or intimidate you.


This question is about how critical infidelity is to your boyfriend or girlfriend, how likely they are to forgive a cheat, and whether they are interested in open relationships or hookups.




A commitment to self-exploration can be a very good thing — including openness to couples therapy should the need arise. Also, you may learn that a prospective partner is too over-reliant on counseling for your tastes.



Deposit Photos


If the other person even understands the question, you are in business!





A person with a rich life outside of work and family, including sports, creative pursuits, travel, fitness, education make you attractive and interesting now, and can bring new experiences to your partner. Plus, a full partner makes a better, less needy and fragile partner.




The answer to this question illustrates whether your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s values are aligned with their life


This article originally appeared on Wealthy Single Mommy and was syndicated by


Featured Image Credit: