No matter how you cut it, being in a relationship is work. When you live together, you must consider your partner in nearly everything you do, which can be especially tough if you enjoy your alone time (via Cosmopolitan).
Your partner will be a factor in your meals, entertainment, leisure activity, and possibly your workday since so many people are now working from home.
That’s without even considering the daily chores that need to get done. It’s not uncommon for one partner to have higher cleaning and household maintenance standards. According to one survey, 80% of couples have arguments about cleaning, as per NBC News. Dealing with each other’s family and deciding how often to see them can be another thorn in the side.
However, there are times when no disagreement is going on, yet it seems your partner is intentionally trying to irk you. There are a few different reasons why this happens.
All partners push buttons from time to time
Once in a while, every partner can and even should push your buttons. Surprisingly, it’s part of the relationship dynamic. In a healthy relationship, your partner will push you to be a better person with open communication and honest feedback. They will encourage you to face your fears and point out areas you may be challenged in if you aren’t aware.
We choose partners who are familiar to us in terms of the love we received growing up (via Psychology Today). Partners have good traits that make us recall loving memories and negative traits that trigger our childhood wounds. "It’s that perfect combination of the positive and negative from our past they embody that makes us drawn to them so powerfully and to feel immediately as if we’ve known them forever,” says clinical psychologist Josh Gressel. "We have!"
The idea is that our partner should provide a safe and healthy space for us to work out our childhood wounds. That’s why you often find introverted people with extroverted partners or organized and responsible people paired with those who are more carefree and flexible.
People naturally are drawn to behaviors they want to possess, so when your partner has opposite strengths, it provides an excellent learning opportunity (via Verywell Mind). It also gives you a chance to expand your horizons and experiences. So when your partner nudges you to try something, it may feel annoying, but it’s for your self-development.
When your partner’s button pushing is unhealthy
How your partner conveys a viewpoint or stance is just as important as what is said. Whenever an opposing view is presented, a partner should always present it in a loving manner.
Sure, everyone has an off day or gets in a bad mood, but consistent put-downs or name-calling should never take place. These are toxic behaviors, as per Herway. If your partner is constantly talking down to you, blaming you for everything, or manipulating or gaslighting you and making you doubt your reality, these behaviors must be promptly addressed.
Some partners resort to being passive-aggressive. Indirect forms of aggression are passive-aggressive, meaning they can seem unassuming and not harmful yet the underlying sentiment behind them is aggression (via PsychCentral). They may say they will do something and not follow through, act sullen or give minimal responses, say they agree with you when they don’t, be sarcastic, moody, give the silent treatment, or make excuses.
How to respond when your buttons are being pushed
Sometimes your partner gets on your nerves through no fault of their own. They may have habits that don’t bother you most of the time, yet when in an anxious or depressed mood, they may be pretty annoying. If your partner’s slurping their soup or singing off-key is irking you to no end, it may benefit you to remove yourself from the situation and consider exactly why it’s bothering you. You may often find that something else is making you feel anxious, worried, or annoyed and displacing your frustration onto your partner.
After all, your partner isn’t intentionally making you feel any way when they are simply being themselves, as per Sheknows. Give yourself grace and find a way to soothe yourself. Try taking a bath, reading a book, or simply talking to your partner about what is troubling you. While decompressing, you may realize that the habit that grates your nerves now is one that you used to find cute or amusing (via Your Tango). It goes without saying that you also have some quirky habits yourself. If your partner is intentionally bothering you, that’s something different, and it’s time to have a talk.
Talk to your partner about why they are being antagonistic
The first thing to do wherever you are having a relationship problem with your partner is to open up a dialogue and discuss your issue. They may not be aware of what they are doing. Subtle things like eye rolls and facial gestures may not seem terrible, but they can create a break in your bond. Making snide comments and being dismissive is more apparent. These behaviors can create contempt which is a relationship killer. According to research by The Gottman Institute, "unhappy women displayed more contempt, defensiveness, and criticism. In comparison, the unhappy men showed contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling."
Be direct and calmly explain why what they are doing is bothering you. The intent behind passive aggression isn’t always to purposely hurt you. They may just be acting out in patterns they are accustomed to when they become fearful or may have trouble with direct communication.
"Passive-aggressive people will often become inflamed or retaliatory when healthy strategies are put into play," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly (via Insider). "A passive-aggressive person who is working on self-development may, however, be able to respond in healthy ways."
Seek counseling if talking isn’t working
If talking doesn’t help change the behavior, or even worse, if it backfires and causes your partner to stonewall or shut down even more, it’s time to consider professional counseling.
"Most people go to couples therapy when intimacy or communication is stuck and perhaps on life support," marriage therapist Ian Hoge tells MBG Relationships. "The couple is usually at a crossroads, not knowing how to move forward or if they even want to move forward anymore."
Often the problem is the lack of clear communication causes eruptions in the relationship. "There is communication, and then there’s effective communication," says Sara Nasserzadeh, as per CNN. "Both parties need to feel heard, soothed, respected, and cared for first."
Not everyone is equipped to handle healthy communication. "Love is a feeling, but a healthy relationship is a skill set. Most of us don’t learn these skills growing up, so we expect love to carry us through," says marriage therapist Linda Carroll. "But it isn’t enough. That said, love combined with skills usually is enough."