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Lovers who’ve been together awhile tend
almost universally to get maddened by what

look (on the surface) like certain absurdly
small matters. An otherwise quite reasonable

and decent person might admit to a range of
acute sensitivities around some of their partner’s

rather minor habits – and a tendency swiftly
to lose their temper on encountering them:

they press far too hard on the chopping board;
they don’t put their seat belt on until

after the car is started; in their handwriting
‘b’ and ‘h’ are practically indistinguishable;

they squeeze the toothpaste tube the wrong
way (pressing at the neck rather than the

bottom); they use the word the word ‘tragic’
to mean ‘sad’; they leave drawers fractionally

open; when they drink a glass of water they
never drink it right down to the end but always

tip out the last few drops into the kitchen
sink. Our reactions to such things can seem

wildly out of proportion. We may get extremely
worked up – and then feel mean and possibly

insane. In quieter moments, we may wonder
how we could ever let such insignificant matters

get to us so much. Rather than tell ourselves
we are simply idiotic (though of course we

are all idiots at heart), we should lavish
thought and time on the logic of our tiny

points of ire. The little thing – the small
irritant – is always a symbol of a large

and in truth very important issue operating
in the background of a relationship, though

unfortunately it’s not always easy for us
to put our finger on what the real issue is

and therefore to give a calm and accurate
account of what is, in fact, probably a genuine

cause for concern. Ironically, we’re very
generous about symbols when they turn up outside

our own lives, particularly in art: at college
we might write a thoughtful essay on what

sunflowers meant to Van Gogh or why the colour
blue was so important to Picasso. With these

artists, we are generous. We don’t think
they were idiotic to get so obsessed with

little things. We expend our imaginative effort
to trying to work out what the details meant.

We should take a lesson from this patient
and investigative approach and do for the

important little details of our own emotional
lives some of what art historians did for

the details of their canvases. For the vigorous
pressing on the chopping board, it’s not

the potential damage to the wood that’s
in essence important. We could probably meet

the expense of replacing the board once a
year or so. But our partner’s overeager

effort (as we see it) is a tiny moment in
which we catch sight of a much more troubling

and larger quality in them: a sense of indelicacy,
roughness and lack of restraint. And we fear

this side of them not so much in their life
in general, but in relation to ourselves:

the real fear is that they won’t realise
when they are hurting us. Our worry isn’t

for the board, but for ourselves. With the
seat belt, the real point at issue might be

around authority. We were always taught to
put the belt on before starting the engine.

We obeyed. We have learned to do the ‘right
thing’. Why then do they feel they can get

away with breaking the rules? What is this
slightly arrogant, entitled sense of being

different? The absurdly tiny detail of precisely
when the seatbelt is fastened becomes the

carrier of a grand and in its way properly
legitimate concern: will my partner ever understand

the fear of ‘doing the wrong thing’ and
sympathise generously with it; will they stop

feeling they are above the rules? Equally
important issues are – behind the scenes

– evident everywhere. The few drops of water
the partner empties casually from the glass

are not about wastage (in a lifetime it might
add up to one bathful only) but the fear that

they might treat us in a similar fashion and
(without a second thought, after they have

drunk the best of our years) throw us away.
Around the handwriting: their cheery Post-it

note on the kitchen table on Saturday morning
‘gone to buy bread’ (which could be pedantically

deciphered as ‘gone to buy head’) doesn’t
genuinely confuse us. Rather, we resent their

lack of worry about being misunderstood. We
resent the implication (embodied in this tiny

detail) that they don’t have to take special
care to make themselves clear to us. We see

in the note a lifetime of misunderstanding
and loneliness. So we are right to worry.

The problem is the way we handle our anxieties.
Ideally, we wouldn’t simply curse and get

irritable. We would patiently transfer our
attention and concern away from the minor

instance, the symbol, towards the real nucleus
of our complaint, which we would lay out with

care, sympathy and a touch of humour. Once
the real issues in our relationships are raised,

the annoying details may be less difficult
to live with, because, most probably, our

partner won’t be indifferent to our articulated
worries. With the riskiest symbols decoded,

love stands a chance of becoming ever more
mutual, peaceable

and secure.
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Why Tiny Things About Our Partners Drive Us Mad

905 タグ追加 保存
Kristi Yang 2017 年 5 月 24 日 に公開
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