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Getting stressed in relationships: Why do we over-react to small things?

Why are relationships so difficult, and why do we find ourselves reacting strongly to things that in themselves don’t feel that huge? Why is it that some things really irritate us and other things pass us by?

We can joke about people getting divorced because one person wouldn’t put the lid back on the toothpaste, but often people get into conflict over seemingly minor issues. This is because it is never just about the issue itself. For instance with the toothpaste lid, one person might react by feeling that it is a relief not to be too tidy because when they were a child their parents would get very upset about minor details such as this. Another person may react by feeling very undervalued that their partner is leaving them to always tidy up after them. It is always very individual.

So the way we react is always personal to us. If a particular behaviour (or person) gets under your skin you can bet it’s because there is some history to it for you. We react to things partly because of what is being communicated to us, - what meaning we take from the behaviour, as to how the other person feels about us, and past meanings.

It may be that the other person is showing some behaviour that you really don’t like about yourself and feel unable to change, and so seeing it in another person is difficult to bear.

Alternatively it may be something that you are afraid of becoming, and so you react strongly when you see it in someone else.

It can be that they remind you of something from the past. This may be something that is harmless in itself (like people clearing their throat), but it may be associated with someone difficult from your past who cleared their throat and hearing it now takes you right back to that past.

Next time something really bothers you, take a minute to ask yourself what it is tapping into, and what it is about you that leads you to react in that way. It is never as simple as the other person simply being annoying.

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