Generally speaking, the objective of relationship advice is to minimize friction between romantic partners. We all want our relationships to run smoothly, and most couples would agree that it’s not great to drive each other nuts.
There’s no doubt that the ability to manage conflict—even low-level conflict—is an essential relationship skill. But I’d argue that there are times when it’s fine—even good!—for partners to annoy each other. In other words, is it ever wise to welcome a little frustration in your relationship? I’d say yes.
Let’s look at the primary reasons why a little irritation in a relationship is actually a good thing.
1. Annoying behavior is a sign of being comfortable with each other.
When you first start dating someone, it’s common to be on your absolute best behavior—especially if you really like the other person. You’ll refrain from certain behaviors you may enjoy, like getting up at noon on weekends or eating a bag of Doritos for dinner. But eventually, the real you is bound to come out… and start exasperating your partner.
In some ways, annoying one another is a sign that you’re in a “real” relationship.
Expressing one’s authentic self—oddities and all—is a sign of a healthy level of comfort in a relationship. When you start butting heads, it means you no longer feel it necessary to always say the “right” thing—which is a good thing for the longevity of the relationship.
2. But it’s also a sign that you’re not too comfortable.
The real death knell of a relationship is not conflict… it’s emotional withdrawal. When you’ve reached the point where you can’t muster any feelings about your partner – not even annoyance or frustration – that’s a sign that you’ve emotionally checked out of the relationship.
Of course, excessive aggravation is not good. But no aggravation may actually be worse.
If you’re feeling a little annoyed with your partner, it means you’re still feeling in general… and the last thing you want to do is stop feeling altogether. Annoyance in a relationship is not always a bad thing because it can be a sign that there’s still life in the relationship.
3. Annoyance offers opportunities for growth.
Sure, sometimes annoying behavior is just annoying—and there’s no higher purpose to seek in it. Your partner always being late to dinner may have no deeper meaning, it may just be annoying. Your partner forgetting to get the car washed may have no profound significance, it may just be annoying.
But other times—I’d argue more often than we realize—annoying behavior does serve a higher purpose. These areas of friction may be nothing more than differences rubbing up against each other, but they may also highlight areas of the relationship where improvement could be beneficial.
In other words, annoyance is often a finger pointing at aspects of the relationship that could be better—providing opportunities for growth.
How do you know what could be improved in your relationship? Look at what’s annoying you. Maybe your partner being late to dinner points toward a deeper issue: She always stretches herself too thin. Or maybe your partner forgetting to wash the car is evidence of his irresponsibility—a legitimate concern in any relationship.
Sometimes annoyance is pointless, but other times it’s a powerful catalyst for positive change.
Given the reasons discussed here, I’d suggest that the goal of relationships should not be to eliminate all frustrations with one’s partner. Instead, a better goal might be to recognize annoyance for what it is—a sign that you’re being yourself, a sign that you still feel, and a sign that things could be better— and use it as a tool to grow together.
The writer of this piece, Kira Asatryan is a relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely... (culled from Times Magazine)