On Sweating the Small Stuff


It's okay to say No, to set limits and to expect cooperation from our partner.

Sometimes it feels like we have come to such a place based on the idea that we need to be politically correct, or polite that we’ve somehow lost the voice to politely, and assertively ask for what we want, and need.

In relationships, there is an underlying message we have often received, about not sweating the little stuff, to instead look at the big picture, and to pick our battles. It definitely makes sense, and I whole-heartedly agree with all those things. But what is not conveyed in this message is that in most cases, it is the little things, which add up to the big picture.  Without the small pieces in place, there would be no big picture. So, what I am saying is do sweat the small stuff, especially if the little things bother you, and especially if you care about the big picture.

I am definitely a proponent of sweating the little stuff, and still picking our battles. At the end of the day, not all of the little things are going to bother us, but if we do not address the small ones which do, as they happen, then it will start to seem like there are more and more things that will continue to get added and the next thing you know a list will begin to grow and yes, the small things will start to add up, and not in a positive way. When we don’t address our feelings and speak to the emotions of the situation, we are blatantly ignoring the situation, and the anger and frustration will find a way to express itself, and unfortunately then sometimes it’s not pretty. What ends up happening is then we hold in the emotion of anger and frustration, trying to be the bigger person, the nice person, the calm person, and then lo and behold, small things we would normally not care about start to bother us. And, if we don’t tell our partner that something is bothering us, then how are they going to know? And, no it does not make us crazy, neurotic, nit picky to ask for what we want and expect our partner to hear us and cooperate. And it doesn’t make us nice, polite, or a bigger better person if we ignore our own feelings and don’t stand up for ourselves. Quite the contrary, it makes us a doormat. It is not too much to ask our partner to hear us, and try to understand where we are coming from.

It’s okay for us to expect cooperation from our partner and to give them an opportunity to show us they’ve heard us and want to share. Not only is it okay for us to expect it, but when presented appropriately it gives our partner an opportunity to rise to the occasion and let us know that they’ve heard us and that they care.

We should not be afraid to ask for what we need. It is not asking too much to expect that our partner will want to grow with us, share with us, cooperate with us, and want us to be happy. If we are happy, then we are better for them and the relationship. So, why do we shy away from speaking our minds?

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we feel guilty. We want to be liked. We’ve heard words like anal-retentive and nit-picking and we think we should just accept our partner for who they are, no holds barred, and accept this as a sign of compatibility, of whether or not we are compatible. We want to be the bigger person. We’ve forgotten how to ask for what we need and we’ve forgotten how to say no. We become so consumed with concepts like “letting go” and “non-attachment,” which are very zen-like ideas but they don’t address cooperation in a relationship. It is okay to expect our partner to meet us half way.

And, the way we communicate is key.  Many of us have never been taught to say, No, or we don't feel comfortable saying no. We think this somehow makes us mean, rigid, or bad. We have yet to learn to verbalize our feelings in an honest and sincere manner. It is important to establish boundaries and limits, and to be okay with saying no. It is also important to recognize that our feelings, wants, needs and desires are okay. Somewhere along the way, someone taught us they weren't. We need to undo this and remember that our needs matter.

And most of all, it is important to recognize the power we convey, and the respect we glean when speak clearly and positively. If we come from a place of not complaining, anger and accusation, but instead with genuine tenderness about our own feelings, ourselves and the things we need that would make us feel a little bit better, that would make our life a little easier, that would let us know that our partner cares and wants to meet us half way, we might be surprised at how much our partner might actually hear us and respond in jest. Be careful of punishing, blaming or trying to incite guilt, pointing the finger, and all around acting from a place of anger. 

Basically, wait until you are not angry, upset or frustrated. Acting from a place of emotion is the worst and often ineffective. Once you are calm, this may even be a day later, you can talk to your partner about what happened. For example, “I got in the shower today and there were no clean towels. This was very disappointing for me. It felt like you were not thinking about me.” Own your feelings and express them calmly. “It would be great if we can come up with a plan so this doesn’t happen again.” You get the picture, don’t blame, own your feelings and address it with cooperative language. You and your partner are a team.