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More Annoying Habits

Relationship Rut #3: He Won't Pick Up After Himself

"Jason's such a sensitive soul, but he's as sloppy as Oscar Madison," complains Dina, 38, married for five years and living in Austin, Texas. "It's a big blind spot for him: I make a nice home a priority, and he's too distracted by the computer-code in his head to notice where his socks go. I know he doesn't mean to drive me up the wall. But he does." Dina handled the problem by giving Jason his own "sloppy room." If he can keep his mess contained, she'll give him a place to be piggy and pick up the rest of the house.

While this solution keeps this couple relatively harmonious, not everyone has a free room just for clutter. And it does leave Dina in charge of the cleaning duties, which she could resent down the road if rugrats are also making a mess.

Some experts would advise you to leave his socks on the floor rather than enabling him by picking up after him, but in Dina's case, Jason really never would notice. Instead, Morris says, "Change the environment so that it's almost more difficult not to put things away." A hamper shaped like a basketball hoop is almost irresistible to men -- and many women, even if it does clash with the eclectic country decor. A sign reminding him to tidy up, posted in his closet, does the work without you ever having to open your mouth. Best of all, ask him how you can help him help you. If you admit that you like things 100 percent clean, and he says he likes things 20 percent clean, you should be able to come up with a mid-range level of clean that you can both live with and work towards. "If you enroll the other person in the solution, you're halfway there," says Morris.

Relationship Rut #4: He Watches (or Plays) Too Much Sporty Stuff

"Okay, it was the World Cup," admits Lisa, 36, a publishing employee with three kids in Maplewood, New Jersey. "But the day Dave started at nine in the morning and watched three games in a row, I thought, we really have a serious problem here. It was a beautiful day out, and I wanted to enjoy one of our few days together -- and it was as if I wasn't there." Lisa never has come up with a solution; TV sports are not just Dave's pastime; he sells TV ads during big games, and his office is saturated with sports talk. To miss a game, to him, seems criminally negligent. So Lisa just grits her teeth and broods, becoming increasingly allergic to the sound of televised cheering fans.

Not dealing with it, says Ursiny, is the worst thing to do. "Every time I hide something from my partner, it's like I put up a little tiny force field between us. If it's not a big deal, there's enough relationship to make up for that. But if it's really something big, it'll get in the way of intimacy between you." The secret, he says, is to bring it up before it builds up into an explosion. Lose your cool, and you lose the strength of your position. And probably your partner's attention.

Instead, he says, "use the laws of attraction: Be a magnet to make him want to spend time with you rather than in front of the plasma screen." Come up with specific plans: not "Let's spend time together," but "Let's go to the Renaissance Faire." (Better yet, maybe he'd like a trip to Cooperstown!) Another strategy, he says, is to take Dina's approach to Jason: "Give him some 'sacred space.' Find out when the games are on, and build your activities around them. That way, neither of you is wrong -- you just both have desires, and you honor that by respecting each other's time to indulge them."

Relationship Rut #5: He Complains About His Job -- but Won't Take Action

"My husband has a boss who's very threatened by him, and gives him a hard time," says Grace, a mother of two and part-time bookstore clerk in New York City. "I completely empathize with him, but the complaining is getting a little intense. A past experience with a bad boss has scarred him, so he gets panicked every time there's a problem -- and brings it home rather than taking steps to fix it."

To deal with it, Grace invoked a new rule: Three weeks and forget it. "He's allowed to complain about any problem he has for exactly three weeks. In that time, he has to either solve the latest problem, or move on emotionally -- it can't be brought up again."

Grace's approach may seem extreme, but it gets high marks from Fair. "She's setting a limit," he says. "If he just needs to blow off steam, then they have to have a sit-down about this, and come up with an amount of steam-blowing that she can tolerate, and that lets him feel some relief." The key is to show respect for his position without giving in to his conversation-dominance every time.


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