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Get rid of those little foxes!

Hubby’s driving you up the wall, and you can’t understand why suddenly everything about him irritates you, from the blue socks he wears to the way he brushes his teeth that little bit longer than the average person … what now?

“It’s the little foxes that destroy the vineyard,” your Grandmother always used to say, and who could forget Granddad’s favourite: “The straw that broke the camel’s back”. These days, your vineyard is almost barren and your camel’s on his last legs. The man whose charm once made you think of Neil Diamond, now tends to remind you of Marilyn Manson, and the ‘cute’ slurps he made when sipping his tea all those years ago are now the equivalent of someone scratching their fingernails on a blackboard!

Two of the most common complaints when it comes to idiosyncrasies are the TV and thermostat settings. You and hubby probably don’t, and won’t ever, agree on which programme to watch. He can’t understand your obsession with Desperate Housewives, and you think that only people with an IQ lower than 80 can appreciate wrestling. The same usually applies to temperature setting – if you’re one of those women who sits in the car with a duvet over your lap while he puts the air-conditioning on full speed, you aren’t alone. You’re perfect for each other, but your metabolisms didn’t get the memo!

What are the most common irritations between marriage partners? The Orange County family therapists listed the following when asked which small irritations were enough to turn into bigger problems in clients’ marriages (and their own):

  •     monopolising the television remote;
  •     squeezing toothpaste from the middle;
  •     leaving the toilet seat down (or up);
  •     hogging the blanket at night;
  •     forgetting to give each other telephone messages;
  •     neglecting to balance the cheque-book;
  •     coming home late without calling;
  •     spraying beauty products when the other one is close by;
  •     criticising each other’s driving abilities; and
  •     leaving a trail of personal items in the house.

Fighting about small nitty-gritties is normal: “When I’m reading a magazine, and quickly get up to do something, my husband has made a habit of stealing the magazine and disappearing into the bathroom with it,” says Sonja (52). “He then spends a good half hour there, and when I get my once-crisp magazine back, it’s been read through and just isn’t the same anymore.” Her husband, John (56), has his own frustrations: “Sonja loves to use pens from my study to write notes all over the house. Sometimes, my really expensive pens go missing and notes get written on important documents. She also has the irritating habit of leaving those same pens lying around when she doesn’t need them anymore!”

This might make you smile sympathetically, or recall some of your own husband’s irritating habits, but it’s important to remember that small irritations between a couple can quickly become huge stumbling blocks if they’re simply ignored. “… marriage would be great if we could live apart!” writes Robert Locke on the website He goes on to say that, sometimes, small irritations which at first don’t appear to be much of a problem can become serious issues that can easily be blown out of proportion. In truth, the perfect mate doesn’t exist … marriage vows are about highs and lows – in sickness and in health – and this is true of almost every aspect of marriage. It’s only by recognising this and not expecting perfection of your mate that you can hope to protect your marriage from the damaging effects irritation can inflict.

In their book, Love, Honor and Forgive: A Guide for Married Couples, Bill and Pam Farrel write that the simplest truth is that it‘s impossible for two people to stay together for a given time period and not hurt each other. If marital issues were isolated to the small irritations that come with imperfection, we would all have good marriages, but small irritations can quickly become huge problems – and these can break both your heart and marriage. When you allow yourself to dwell on small irritations, it makes it difficult to act lovingly toward your partner. Kristine Jablonski, a psychiatric nurse and family therapist, says that these small things can become so colossal that, a few years later, they seem insurmountable and in the end you say: “I don’t care any more. I’m leaving”. (

The longer you’re married, the longer your list of irritations grows. This isn’t because your husband has picked up more bad habits over the years, but because bad habits are easy to tolerate in the beginning of your relationship. Over time, however, they begin to erode this tolerance. Dr John M. Gottman, in his article Lessons from the Love Lab (Family Circle, 4 February 2002) says that happy marriages are based on deep appreciation and mutual respect for each other, and enjoying each other’s company. “A couple that keeps their friendship strong despite the inevitable disagreements and irritations of married life, experiences what I call ‘positive sentiment over-ride’ – their positive thought about each other and their marriage are so pervasive that they tend to supersede their negative feelings. It takes a much more significant conflict for them to lose their equilibrium as a couple.”

Keep the foxes at bay!
So, how can you protect your vineyard from the little foxes? Experts and marriage therapists give the following advice:

Invest in patience!
Your human nature will fight against patience for all you’re worth, especially when your mate is irritating you, but it’s important to treat him as you would like to be treated. Remember that no-one functions at exactly the same speed. If you are a ‘quick’ person, you are probably also the one that finds yourself getting impatient quickly. Try allowing your mates to do things at their own pace. Think about why you’re always in a rush – perhaps it’s worth starting to live a little slower. Set aside time to relax and to simply enjoy your mate ( Remember that you have your own irritating tendencies. If you express the desire to change him, be prepared to change yourself as well.

Shift your focus
Tell your husband in a calm tone of voice, and preferably with a dash of humour, that what he is doing is irritating you. He may make an effort to change, but remember that it’s difficult to shake old habits. As soon as he’s aware of it, you can remind him next time he does it. Expressing your frustration is better than bottling your anger up inside. Ask your husband to point your irritating habits out in the same tactful way, and focus on changing these so that you don’t find yourself constantly concentrating only on his faults. If this doesn’t work, ask God for patience and believe that He can make things better. Try making a list of all the things that irritate you, and you’ll soon realise how silly most of them are. As Claudia Arp so wisely said: Cling to your mates, despite what happens, and give them permission to be less than perfect.

Search for the other reason
Everything seems irritating when you’re cross with someone and don’t know how to express your anger, believes Hara Estroff Marano, a marriage expert and agony aunt. She believes anger has a way of building up and increasing gradually when it comes to small disappointments. If you find that you’re very irritated with your mate lately, it may be worth meditating on what the hidden reason is and putting this into words. Many people think that making their disappointments known will lead to confrontation, and decide to ignore and avoid these. In truth, this in itself leads to a great deal of unhappiness because it creates no opportunity for awareness of the problem and also no possibility for positive change. No relationship can ever be satisfying unless it involves two people who actively try to create opportunities to express what they want from each other and to iron out unavoidable difficulties.

Choose your words wisely
Conversations like these should take place within an atmosphere of trust. Each partner should listen to the other one without interruption, and requests should be made a tone of appreciation. Say something like: “I know we haven’t been getting on lately. I love it when we get on, and our fights make me feel hurt and angry. I really want to feel close to you, but your smoking bothers me and I don’t think it does wonders for your health either, which also bothers me”. After this, you can deliver your specific request, she recommends. Don’t tell him what he should do. Specify what you would like him to do to fix the problem. Try: “For my sake, do you think you could stop smoking in the house?” When two people feel as if they’re being listened to, they usually have the freedom to ask for what they want and resultantly develop a degree of intimacy through doing so. (

Focus on loving words
Loving words are vitally necessary in marriage. It’s a decision of the heart to keep loving your mate and to realise he’s who he is because God made him this way, irritations and all! Ask yourself: Why do I find fault with everything my mate does? What can I do to change words of hate into words of love? What changes should I be making? Your mate needs daily encouragement and love, claims the website If women don’t meet this need, someone else will – and this can lead to extramarital relationships, or worse. A couple that concentrates on loving each other using loving words will grow in spiritual intimacy, and the desire to change your mate will fade with time.

Make the choice your own
It helps to keep things in perspective. You may not be able to help becoming irritated with your husband’s bathroom habits, but you do have control of what you do with that anger. You can count to ten, pray for patience or laugh it off. Why don’t you try all three! (Honey, I’m home for good: the ABC’s of lovin’ and livin’ with your stay at home hubby by Mary Ann Cook).

Don’t underestimate the power of thought
When your mate irritates you, funny things happen in your brain. You tell yourself how much he frustrates you, and how cross he makes you. You start to generate thoughts of how little you like him and, after this, start to concoct all sorts of ways to ‘fix’, ‘reprogramme’ or ‘punish’ him. The danger in this is that your thoughts and imagination have immense power and, over time, can have a negative impact on your marriage. Don’t allow what goes on in your thought life to speak destruction over your marriage. These kinds of thoughts project your hate, anger and bitterness onto your mate, suggests the website Rather choose to focus your thoughts on kindness, understanding and appreciation of your mate. Doing this when you’re cross with him is a true test of character, but we guarantee it will yield a rich harvest. Next time he does something you don’t like, focus your thoughts and imagination on him and see him as a loving life partner who fulfils all your needs in every other area. In this way, you’ll project blessing onto your marriage.

We know that this is a tall order. When he’s left his fly-fishing shoes and slimy catch on your granite counter tops, or taken his muddy bicycle for a spin through your living room to reach the car port, murder may seem like a saner option. But try it. Those small things that don’t seem like big issues now can quickly set your marriage aflame. Quench these small matches and see how your vineyard produces a record crop.