Relationship Help: Is it the little things that really get to you?

Oh, yes! Those little sideways glances, rolling eyes, hrmphs, and pauses are often the things that set off conversations that go nowhere good. 

It’s the little things.

  • It’s the lid off the toothpaste tube each morning with all that bright blue goop in the sink.
  • It’s the failure to put on a new roll of toilet paper.
  • It’s the dirty dishes on the coffee table.
  • It’s the smirk when we mention my mother.
  • It’s the saying you’ll do something, then forgetting…repeatedly.  (See posts on passive-aggressive.)
  • It’s the overdrawing the checking account too often.
  • It’s the excuses.
  • It’s the thoughtlessness.
  • It’s the lack of ____________ that really bothers you. 

And, I’m sure that you could make this list much longer at your house.  That’s because we are all bothered in different ways to different degrees by different things.

I often see couples who are at the end of their tethers with one another with the endless litany of “little things”.  They are all worth discussing if our partners are important to us, but it seems most folks prefer to use them to bring out the cold shoulder, the sarcasm, and their own inventory of sighs, hurumphs, and rolled eyes. 

Exasperation is a great word for all this.  It means

to excite or inflame especially to the point of injudicious action”.

And, that’s what happens.  Little things exasperate us. Then, instead of asking for a time to debrief and discuss these things, we just let them simmer. Each builds from ember smoldering to camp fire, and occasionally it happens. A forest fire, seemingly out of control, that we started.  Have you experienced this? Have you lit such a blaze? 

THE BEST STRATEGY:Learn to talk well together.

Communicating is built on speaking, listening, clarifying and discussing. They sound so easy…and so benign. The issues are:

  • what are you speaking about
  • how well you are actually listening
  • what you are clarifying: your complaints or the other’s indifference, each other’s needs or only your own
  • your ability to continue to speak and listen in turn with a view to learning about each other AND solving or resolving a difficulty.

None of this contains even an inkling of trying to convince the other person that you are right. I hope you noticed that.  It is talking about yourself, what you are thinking, feeling, needing and wanting so that your partner knows what’s up with you. And, you offer the same insights about you to your partner. This is what emotional intimacy is based on. 

Unfortunately, due to self-confidence issues and control issues, conversations become confrontations that are more adversarial than collaborative. That’s when it all goes sideways, never mind just the occasional glance going that way! 

As George Bernard Shaw says,

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”

Just because you tell someone what you want and why does not mean that they heard it. And, they likely did not process it.  Why? Because they were so busy figuring out what they were going to say to make you wrong or make themselves right, that they really were not listening. That’s the trick about listening: you have to. 

Hearing is what you do with your ears. That’s why it is so easy for things to go in one and out the others.  Listening means using the ears while engaging the conscious brain. In other words, paying attention in the moment. That’s what makes listening a major activity. 

How do you indicate that you are listening?  You ask questions to learn more about the speaker and those questions are directly related to what the speaker just said. Be curious about your partner. Learn about your partner by listening well. 


So, the little things. Talk about them. Not talk AT each other about them. Purposefully sit down together and discuss the things that make you roll your eyes.

  • What’s going on?
  • What are you thinking?
  • Why do you have disdain for it?
  • What agreements could you make about these things that are respectful and honest? 
  • What can you learn about each other that would reduce the eye rolling and heavy sighs? 


“marked by or given to careful consideration; thoughtful of the rights and feelings of others.” 

How thoughtful, or respectful, of the rights and feelings of others is rolling those eyes?  Or, those heavy sighs that seem to mean “there s/he goes again with that absurd behavior and it is so annoying.” Unless you have had a learning conversation about the issue, you may never understand why the behavior exists! 

OK, do you happen to be thinking that life is too short to have long discussions about small things?  That would be ironic. It’s those very small things that are slowly eroding your relationship. 

Somebody said “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  I say, “Learn from it.” Talking about it in time set aside  for quiet conversation, you will be surprised how much you can learn about your partner….if you are listening. If you are not learning or unwilling to listen, my advice is to get some relationship help now. 

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, is available to help you feel through, think through, and walk through relationship issues. She makes it easier to talk about difficult things. You can even book an appointment yourself online by joining in HERE, or call The Optimize Center at 760.593.4604.  Work with her in-person or through Skype



What folks have said…
You have no idea how much that helped – thank you so much – I wish you love., peace and a night filled with stars and sweet dreams xx Thank you for this excellent video. It was so helpful. Hard subject matter that you explained clearly and truthfully. I appreciate you and the knowledge that you are sharing.
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