Sometimes my husband comes into the kitchen as I finish preparing dinner. He’ll share a story or ask me a question as I line up our drinks and food to be transported to the table. I feel it’s pretty obvious at these times that I could use a hand transporting our dinner to the table, yet my husband exits the kitchen completely oblivious to my need for assistance. Most of the time I’m amused at this, but it can sure be aggravating if I’ve had a bad day.
Do you feel this way about the quirks of your loved ones? Maybe it’s the way your dad talks during movies instead of watching silently or the way your best friend twirls her hair incessantly. Perhaps it’s your husband’s habit of leaving dirty clothes in various places throughout the house. Do these traits that are usually comical (perhaps even endearing) become aggravating under certain circumstances?
Is this aggravation problematic? If so, how can we avoid it?
The problem with being bothered by the quirks of others
An excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters illustrates the harm in being bothered by others’ idiosyncrasies. The Screwtape Letters is a series of fictional letters from Screwtape, a high-ranking demon, to his nephew Wormwood, a younger demon who has just set out on his first mission on earth, which is to secure the damnation of a young man who has just become a Christian.
Screwtape instructs Wormwood in strategies to derail the young Christian. In Letter 3, he suggests that Wormwood use the young man’s relationship with his mother.
“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy-if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed.”
The enemy can turn even the most trivial of quirks—a tone of voice or a facial expression, for example—into wedges that divide us from loved ones. The implications of these divisions are far greater than a damaged relationship—they can derail our faith.
How many times has an annoyance with a quirk snowballed into marital discord? First, it’s simple annoyance. Then it’s the wife’s belief that her husband is intentionally trying to bother her. After all, if he really loved her he would change the quirk, right? Then it’s her choosing to say or do something to give her husband a “taste of his own medicine.” One thing leads to another and divorce is on the horizon! Similar things can happen in our relationships with family members and friends.
How can we learn to accept these idiosyncrasies?
Tips for embracing quirks
- Overlook the quirks out of grace and love. Some quirks may be irritating or inconvenient, but isn’t your loved one worth it? Act as we are instructed to in Philippians 2:1-4 “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
- Pray for humility and patience. Pray and ask the Lord to help you in overlooking the quirks that you find to be annoying.
- Calmly and objectively discuss quirks that are health or safety threats. If a quirk is a legitimate threat to a loved one’s health or safety (e.g., gesticulating wildly and looking away from the road while driving), then gently point out the risk and encourage your loved one to change.
- Consider asking your loved one to change. If you’ve done everything you can but you still aren’t able to overlook a particular quirk, consider speaking with your loved one. Humbly approach him or her with a tone that is not accusatory. Your loved one may be willing to change out of love for you.
- Have a good laugh. The degree to which quirks are bothersome can decrease immensely simply by laughing about them. If possible, find humor in the quirks and in how they impact your life.
What useful advice can you share from your experience? How have you overlooked quirks that once annoyed you?