Q: My husband has annoying traits that drive me crazy. He cracks his knuckles, chews his food loud and tells annoying jokes that he thinks are funny, but are usually just stupid.
He is especially annoying when we are out to dinner and he jokes with waitresses who laugh at his jokes and egg him on. They are just doing it to get a bigger tip, but he thinks they really think he is great.
I have asked him to stop these things but he won't. I am getting to the point where I am annoyed and irritated all the time.
When he comes home, I start getting irritated and whatever he does seems to send me over the edge. I don't want to live like this, but I don't know what to do.
A: Everyone has annoying traits that manage to drive a loved one crazy after living with it long enough. You cannot micromanage every character trait in a spouse. We just have to choose our battles.
The anticipation of confronting your husband's annoying traits is setting you up for a contemptuous mood state that is pervasive and colors everything that happens when you are together. This is not your husband's fault, because only you can manage this mood state.
A mood is caused by a set of negative beliefs we have about our partner. John Gottman calls this the "negative perspective." David Burns, author of "Feeling Good" calls it irrational beliefs and a negative cognitive schema. Alcoholic's Anonymous calls it "stinkin' thinking."
Whatever you want to call it, it certainly gets you in trouble in a marriage.
The trouble with pervasive negative appraisals of your spouse is that you pack these beliefs together with emotions that lead to a pity party of feeling upset, angry, hostile and enraged with your spouse.
This negative line of thinking goes, "Here he goes again with those stupid jokes. Can't he see that everyone thinks he's an idiot? I am so embarrassed to have to sit here and listen to this. Everyone must think I am pathetic to be married to this loser. In fact, I should have married Albert, who went on to become a doctor and his wife doesn't even have to work. This is awful and I can't stand it anymore. I'd leave but I don't want to hurt the kids."
This line of thinking is usually accompanied by contemptuous body language, such as eye rolling, pursed lips, audible sighs and an irritated voice tone. Your spouse immediately knows you are annoyed, but probably doesn't know what it is this time that's bugging you about him. He likely just feels rejected and misunderstood again, which makes it nice to at least have the waitress pay attention to him, so he increases his joking.
In many cases, irritating character traits in spouses can be tolerated. To do so, change your line of thinking from, "this is awful" to "this is too bad, and unfortunate. However, everyone has some character traits that would drive me batty after awhile. I can't find the perfect man, they don't exist. This just happens to be the set of annoyances I have to put up with in this relationship."
After many attempts to practice changing your line of thinking, you will actually come to believe this is true.
Further, you can manage to actually change your mood state from annoyance to amusement, tolerance or acceptance for example. A mood is not a fixed entity. You are not held hostage by your moods. In fact, the person who is made most miserable by your mood state is yourself, because you suffer with bad feelings and a bad outlook.
Take charge of the fact that you can dismiss a mood that is not productive, such as annoyance, which just feeds on itself. Replace it with another emotion which works better in that setting. You are the master of your feelings. Take control. Fish down deep within yourself to find another emotion you could feel and make it happen.
Try it as best you can.
Janet Hibel has a diplomate in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561) 694- 6703. Her Web site is