Don't let the little things become a big problem

The Baltimore Sun

Familiarity breeds contempt.

And that is no truer than in a romantic relationship. Even if you're true-blue-to-the-sky in love with your sweetie, there are still going to be things that rub you the wrong way. Like, say, the way he smacks his lips when he eats ice cream. Or the ways she interrupts your conversations.

But do you address these annoyances or swallow them? And if you do say something, what's the best way to do it?

An ex-boyfriend of Maya Ganapathy, 23, had an annoying habit of leaving bones on the table when he ate chicken. The first time her ex-boyfriend, who was visiting from Germany, did it, she was a little shocked.

"I didn't know what to do about that," says the Charles Village resident. "Maybe it was a cultural thing."

Ganapathy decided not to say anything, opting to keep an "open mind." However, she says she has noticed that Americans tend to sweat the small (and big) things more than their European counterparts.

"In the States, sometimes, at least I've noticed, ... people aren't very blunt," she says. "Whereas, living in Europe, people always just tell you to your face."

Mellisha McKitty, 28, of Charles Village, had a different experience. In her native Jamaica, she says women are less vocal, at least when it comes to relationships.

"In my culture, the male is the dominant figure; he runs the house," she says. "And you don't really say much if it's not necessary."

That still doesn't stop her from speaking up if something really gets to her. Like her boyfriend's suds problem.

"When he showers, he uses lots of soap and he will leave the suds all over the shower curtains and the walls and never washes it off," she says. She cleaned up that habit.

But she picks her battles. His peculiar way of picking an outfit gets a free pass.

"He asks my opinion, doesn't really want it, but still goes with what I said anyway," she says. "But I don't say anything about that because I don't think that's worth saying anything about."

Dave Bowser of Fells Point says he hesitated to bring up his ex-girlfriend's habit of asking too many questions.

"At the beginning I would answer because I didn't want to cause any problems," he says. "But after two months of playing FBI, I definitely told her to calm down."

And her response?

"Not good at all," says the 23-year-old. After a "long year and a half" together, he says, they broke up.

But how do you bring up issues without bringing down the house?

Very carefully, says Virginia-based dating coach Toni Coleman.

If it's a small thing, take a relaxed approach, she says, such as, "I don't know why this bugs me, but I really hate it when you do this."

If it's something a little bigger, Coleman recommends what she calls the "stroke kick stroke routine" -- couch the complaint in compliments.

Ivonne Schatt, 24, of Montreal adds that you should also be aware of how your S.O. reacts to different approaches. She says men are more sensitive about criticism than we think, so she treads carefully when she points out annoyances to her fiance.

"I used to tell him, 'Hey, I don't like your shirt,' and he would get really annoyed," she says. "It was like, not only am I saying I don't like your shirt, but I think you dress really bad. You have no taste at all."

In their year and a half together, Schatt says she has learned that it's OK to raise issues about men's annoying little habits, but you've got to say it in a way they will understand. And I don't mean using small words.

Coleman, who runs the Web site, agrees.

"It's approaching men in the way that works for them," she says. "Men are extremely sensitive to what they perceive women as saying 'You never do this,' 'You always do that.'"

It's not only key to know how they'll react, but how you'll react, Coleman says. If it is something you can let go, then you don't need to raise it.

But if his cowlike chomping is going to wear away at you until you blow up and threaten him with a fork if he opens his mouth, speak up now. "You've got to have the sensitiveness and the cleverness to say the right thing at the right time in a way that's not going to hurt them," says Schatt.

"But it's important to say it," she adds. "It's just knowing when and how."

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