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Annoying habits can break up a healthy relationship
Hong Kong, Oct 7 (DPA) Some irritating little habits - however trivial they seem - can be fatally annoying and can eventually drive partners to distraction and make a relationship crumble and crack.
It might be the way he leaves the cap off the tube of toothpaste. It might be the way she takes too much luggage on holiday. It might be the way he addresses her in babyish terms in public. It might be the way she fidgets with her hair.
Scientists have researched just how damaging these little habits can be in some relationships, saying if left unchecked and repeated constantly they can cause a reaction similar to a physical allergy in the partner on the receiving end.
In a study published by the US journal Personal Relationship, researchers claimed the emotional response triggered by those annoying habits increases in intensity the more and more they are repeated.
The study, carried out by psychologists at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and funded by the US government, found that couples who reported higher numbers of bad habits among their partners were less likely to stay together.
According to Michael Cunningham, one of the psychology professors who led the research, the so-called "social allergies" or behaviour that stirs negative emotions are like a pebble in your shoe or poison ivy.
"The first experience with a physical allergen, such as poison ivy, is likely to produce a small negative reaction, but with repeated contact the sensitivity tends to increase and the negative reaction becomes stronger," he said.
"The same repetition sensitivity response appears to occur in emotional reactions following a partner's unpleasant behaviour."
Cunningham says the increased insensitivity occurs because the annoyance at the act is added to the annoyance of its repetition, the memory of past, similar behaviour.
The study, entitled "Social Allergies in Romantic Relationships", is part of Cunningham's ongoing research into the "de-romanticisation" process during which relationships change from that first flush of exciting new love to the steady, committed and less exciting type.
"The closeness and familiarity of a romantic relationship can create a range of emotions from contentment to contempt," says the report.
"Learning about the partner's hopes and dreams, and exchanging support, kindness and affection, can lead to love and commitment. But the process of going backstage and learning everything there is to know about the other person's private self can also lead to some undesirable surprises."
The study questioned 137 dating couples about their partners' behaviour, the frequency of certain bad habits and the emotional response they triggered.
Researchers met the couples a year later and discovered that couples who reported a greater frequency of annoying habits and greater intensity of negative emotions were less likely to still be together.
How much these acts contributed to the end of a relationship was questionable. Hong Kong-based relationship counsellor Sharon Glick agrees that most couples' annoyances only emerge after the honeymoon phase of their relationship has ended.
However, Glick points out that in her experience they only become a problem when the relationship is in trouble.
"There are several stages of love. At the absolute maximum, the honeymoon period lasts three years. The hardest time in a relationship is when you have growing careers and growing families and that's when life can be stressful," she said.
"People say that women let themselves go. But couples let themselves go in terms of their personal manners and habits. If you feel comfortable with someone, if you love and care about someone and they treat you well, you can overlook this loss of niceties and the social faux pas."
"But if you feel unloved, unappreciated, unacknowledged, the anger that causes puts various things in focus. When the mood is negative, the things that annoy can become magnified. You pick up on nasty habits and if they continue they can become annoying."
So what should you do? According to Cunningham, what you shouldn't do is to laugh or ignore a partner's allergic reaction to what he calls "backstage behaviour", no matter how trivial it may seem.
"If one person regards something as annoying even if the other regards it as trivial, then it is serious enough to be something they should discuss and work out," he said.
Indo-Asian News Service