It’s normal to feel frustrated with your partner from time to time. Hell, we’d even go as far as to say that it’s weird to never feel frustrated with them. Marriage can be frustrating. When two people live together, coping with bills, mortgages, kids, schedules, in-laws, weird habits, and everything in between, one person will inevitably drive the other one a bit nuts. But frustration can quickly deteriorate into resentment or full-on anger. So, the trick becomes understanding how to deal with frustration in a healthy way.
“It is normal for everyone to feel frustrated with their partner,” says Cheri Timko, a Couples Relationship Coach. “Part of living together is navigating how to be two people with different personalities and still live together peacefully.” How we handle the differences can greatly influence other parts of the relationship, so it is important to be particularly aware in these situations. “When they are handled poorly,” Timko adds, “it can lead to anger and resentment for both partners. When done well, situations of frustration can help build and strengthen your bond.”
Before you let your frustration get the better of you, take a moment and try to take some of this expert advice.
1. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
This is age-less advice for a reason. It can be very easy to get so consumed by your own frustration that you’re only able to see how it affects you. But if you try to take a look at the situation from your partner’s side and ask yourself how you might feel, or how you might react, and chances are you’ll be in a better place. “Think of how this situation is related to other situations for your partner,” adds Timko. “This is not your interpretation, but what you know they would say if they explained it to you.” If you are stuck, Timko suggests writing a letter from them to you explaining their experience in the situation.
2. Ask For Their Input
Why? Because how else are you going to get to the root of your frustration? The key is calm. Talk to your partner and ask them to explain the reasoning behind their actions and emotions. Listen and ask questions to try and gain some understanding. “It is important that you choose a good time to ask so you both stay calm,” Timko says. “You may not get the opportunity to describe your part, but knowing what is happening for your partner will help you deal with it better.”
3. Have a Plan
If you’ve been with someone long enough, you usually can start to tell when things are going badly. When you sense a tense situation beginning to brew, it might be wiser to try and nip the argument in the bud before it gets worse. “Know ahead of time what are the signs and symptoms that your frustration and irritation are growing and what you need to do to manage them,” says Timko. Calling a timeout and returning to a conversation when you’ve cooled down (and actually re-engaging with it) is always an excellent strategy.
4. Take a Big Picture View
It’s always good to remember that you and your spouse are playing the long game. Sometimes you may have to give more in a certain situation and other times, it’s your partner who will have to put their feelings aside to focus on you. If you are both in it together, you can navigate these bumps in the road and keep your focus on the longevity of your partnership. “Every relationship has times when one partner puts in more,” says Timko. “You may need to be the bigger person in this situation. As hard as it is, it is an investment in the future of the relationship.”
5. Talk to Your Partner — When You’re Calm
When tensions are running high, someone is going to say or do something that will set one or both of you off. Wait until you’ve both cooled off to address what it is that’s frustrating you. “Choose the time to discuss your frustrations carefully,” says Timko. “Bad times are when your partner is busy with other things, before work or bed, or when either of you are frustrated or exhausted. If this is all of the time, you might have a bigger problem in the relationship than just the situation that is irritating you.”
6. Govern Your Own Feelings
You can’t control how your partner behaves, but you can control your own reaction to their behavior. If they’re doing something or saying something that frustrates you, and you let it get you to the point where you yourself fly off the handle, then you’ve only made the situation worse. “You are responsible for bringing your best self to as many situations as possible,” says Timko. “For many people, managing your own emotions is something they consider as a bare minimum in a relationship.”
7. Consider Outside Influences
Being aware of what’s happening around you — and understanding that, oh, you or your partner might be stressed because of X and Y factors —n can help you approach a stressful situation more rationally. “We are at our worst when something big is changing in our lives,” Timko says. “It is important that you keep a careful watch for how these things are affecting you so you don’t let the frustration build.”
8. Take Some Space — And Use Your Words
Frustration can sometimes build to a point where you and your partner can’t stand to be in the same space. However, even when two people get to that point, they continue to battle it out, talking and arguing until tempers flare and things are said that both partners regret. Before you reach that point, take a moment to step away and get clear. Go for a run, engage in a solo activity or just find a quiet spot to gather your thoughts. It’s important that you calmly let your partner know that you’re taking space and why you’re doing it. “Verbally explaining what you’re doing can be extremely helpful for a partner who may easily jump to conclusions or assume the worst if you temporarily disappear–either emotionally or physically,” explains marriage and family therapist Amber Trueblood.
9. Recognize Your Own Narrative
Very often, we tend to lay the blame for our feelings solely at the feet of our partner. They become the source for all of our frustration, irritation, and anger. We say things like, “She always does this,” or “He never listens.” In the worst case scenarios, we might start to think, “If I wasn’t with him/her, everything would be better.” The truth is, while our partner may be frustrating, the level of frustration we take it to is a result of the tape loop that plays in our own heads. Does your partner really always do something? Do they really never listen? “Once you can identify these narratives, you have the power to challenge them,” says Lori Ann Kret, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “You can choose to look for the exceptions; those moments when your partner really does show up for you in the way that you need them to.”