The dishes. When was the last time he touched the dishes? He just sets his dirty plates on the counter like he’s waiting for a maid, a housekeeper, a house elf to happily rinse and place them neatly in the dishwasher.

This annoys you. It fills you with rage. It may even anger you enough to start an argument. Or to walk out the door — and end your relationship.

We all have things that annoy us about our partners. These are not big things, such as lying, cheating, or stealing. They are the itsy bitsy, pint-sized grievances that we all endure in relationships. But sometimes those little annoyances become bigger. Sometimes the small stuff is like a canary in a coal mine.

Here is how it goes:

You argue all night about how your partner chews like a cow — yes, a cow! You cannot stand it anymore…He leaves his clothes all over the place. You will not be his maid, and you refuse to do his laundry anymore…His friends are bad influences, and you tell him that if he wants to continue in this relationship, he needs to rethink how he spends his time…He never takes you anyplace. He just wants to sit around and watch TV.

And YES all of these things are aggravating. Some of them may even be deal killers for you. And all of them would justify a happy hour vent session with your friends. But a pile of dirty clothes on the floor does not warrant the destruction of your relationship. Sorry, but no.

See, the problem is not actually the socks on the floor, the obnoxious friends or the Netflix binging. There are likely underlying challenges going on here.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. You have not addressed major problems in your partnership, so now your house is on fire.

Not buying it, are you? Ok, let me explain! If you are in a relationship with the love of your life, and they are meeting your basic needs — love, respect, honoring, protection and a good orgasm every now and then (more now than then) — why would clothes on the floor make you want to abandon your happily ever after?

You see, it is much easier to give attention to the small things than it is to face big, scary problems. I have seen many couples over the years, and whenever I hear couples sweating the small stuff, it is a clear indication that their emotional needs are not being met.

Chances are, if you are constantly arguing with your partner, you feel as though you are not a priority in your relationship and your needs do not matter. You are anxious about your relationship, and confused about where it is heading. Instead of focusing on what is causing these feelings, you turn that confusion and anxiety on easy targets, like those dirty dishes.

For example, It is easier to say, “Start picking up your clothes or I am leaving,” than to say, “We have been living together for a year, and I am really nervous about where our relationship is going.” 

So what’s a girl to do?

Stop, sit and be still.

It’s time to check in with yourself. You need to take a moment to think about the situation, about you, about your partner, about your relationship.

Ask yourself: Are you happy with the relationship? Are you being your true self? Are you being responsible for your own happiness?

That last question is imperative because as women, we often give our partner control over our happiness. That is a big responsibility to give to someone else. It’s also setting your relationship up for failure. When your partner can no longer “make” you happy, you start stressing the small stuff — because you want to validate that your partner is the problem, not you.

The truth is that a clean house, silent chewing, better friends and date nights will not change your relationship if you are no longer happy with yourself and/or your relationship.

So ask yourself these questions, and sit in the space of your answers. Do not be quick to judge your answers or rationalize them. Simply sit and meditate on the truth.

Truth. That’s the goal. Because the truth will allow you to take the next step with confidence and love. I would hate for you to leave a relationship when the issue was not the relationship. Which is why you should take time to focus more on you and your happiness. Sound selfish? Well, it’s not. Think of it like this: If you are not happy, how can you share happiness with someone else? If your identity is intertwined with your partner’s, how can you know who you truly are?

I know, I know as a woman, I am suppose to be on your side. But believe me, this is my way of supporting you and letting you know that the minute you stop looking outward for happiness is the minute you begin to heal from what’s hurting you inside. I want you to be strong and courageous enough to create the life you want and share that with your partner. Instead of wasting precious energy fighting over the small stuff.

And if after you answer the questions above, you find that the relationship is not meeting your needs, then you should address the real problem with your partner.

If you find that the relationship is meeting your needs but you need to do some Heartwork on yourself, then take the time you spend arguing over the small stuff and use it to reflect, write in your journal or read a book. Just spend some time reflecting on yourself and what you want out of life.

Whatever the outcome is, be kind and compassionate to yourself and your partner. Remember, you are in control of your happiness. Let the small stuff stay just that — small stuff!

If you need support as you work on the bigger issues that may be causing you anxiety and confusion about your relationship, a skilled therapist like myself can help. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule an appointment. I can help people in Greenville, SC, and surrounding areas.

Have you allowed the small stuff to interfere with your relationship? Tell me about it! Please share your feedback in the comments below and share your experiences with others in similar situations.

Truthfully yours,