How to Resolve Bitterness and Nitpicking in Relationships

Conflict is inevitable in relationships. Within seconds, a vibe that was once lively and bubbly could turn sour and linger far beyond what either person could’ve imagined.

That was moving week for us…

We’d made it a point in the weeks before to meet up with as many friends as possible. We knew it was risky… but we did it anyway. This left us with less than a week to get everything done (Having “shot ourselves in the foot” feels almost like an understatement. What you see in the pictures is ONE studio after some tidying up. We had TWO studios AND an apartment to pack.)

Our days consisted of nothing but packing. Our diet – candy, chips, and the occasional Chipotle. Our best night’s sleep was maybe three hours total… but other than that, we either pulled all-nighters or settled for an hour nap during the day.

After five grueling days, the moving company PODS came by for the big stuff. We had movers help us load the heaviest of equipment onto the container and on the following days, we shoved in as many of the lighter items as we could – and yes, we really packed that container.

The rest of the items were mostly medium to small and primarily from the apartment. There were a couple big items in there but nothing like what was in the main PODS container. We hired a second moving company to come by and pick up the rest.

On the outside, everything seemed smooth enough. But on the inside, my partner and I were irritated, frustrated, and stressed – both at the situation… and with each other.

This frustration found its way into everything. We went from almost never arguing to suddenly discontent every other day. After weeks of conversation, analyzation, and trying to get to the bottom of it, we realized that it was all two sides of the same coin:

Our wants and needs were requests from the others’ “weaknesses” and insecurities to match the perception of our own “strengths”.

My strength in communication, brevity of action, and detachment from material things conflicted heavily against the time my partner needs to process tremendous changes, her incredible attention to detail, and her unreadiness to let go of items she still saw potential with.

While packing, I would continuously ask her to tell me how I could help – there was very little time and a LOT to do. The problem for me, was that she was unable to tell me anything to do AND… when I did pack certain things, I risked packing them incorrectly or not with the right items. Eventually, I resorted to packing in random areas and hoping that A) she didn’t see me, or B) if she did see, that I didn’t do something incorrectly. Even though my asking came from a good place, it was essentially poking a weak spot of hers repeatedly. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell me how to help, it was that she couldn’t… and wasn’t ready to.

Her inability to give me direction or coordinate me as labor is a weakness of hers that she knows very well already. My asking for communication and leadership triggered that insecurity – the understanding and knowledge that she was failing to give me communication AND leadership in a time we desperately needed it intensified with every recurrence of my asking – regardless of how I asked it.

Despite having eventually made it past packing… we both remained unexplainably bitter towards each other. Whenever there were moments I needed or wanted better communication, I’d voice it and try to explain why it was important to me. This would erupt into a heated discussion. Whenever there were moments when she noticed I forgot a detail or didn’t pay attention to something (such as leaving socks out or forgetting to put something back into the medicine cabinet), she’d point it out and ask why I would repeatedly forget such a simple action. This would also erupt into a heated discussion.

The nitpicking came in all kinds of shapes and colors but it all ended the same – with both of us defending our actions (even though we would both deny that we were defending ourselves), with no resolve that we were happy with, a lingering bitterness towards one another, and the inevitable doom of repeating the process again.

All of these moments were never because we didn’t care. We were usually paying attention to another action – one to which we we feel is “more important”. One to which we have a “strength” in. Instead of focusing on her tone or communication, she was focusing on making sure our space was clean, stress-free, and relaxed. Instead of focusing on adding water to our Brita filter, I was making sure she had coffee by the time she was awake.

Both of us always had good intentions for the other but we were viciously trapped. For weeks we could not stop paying attention to the lack of actions we so desperately wanted from the other. And for weeks, we remained blind to the actions the other did do.

Until we developed a new strategy.

Everyday, we ask each other for one thing we could work on concerning one of our “weaknesses”. From me, it sounds like this, “What’s one detail I could pay more attention to today?” From her, it sounds like, “What’s one area of communication I could work on?”

Sometimes, this might result in a quick discussion for clarity, explanation, examples, or strategies from one person to the other. And after it all, we do our best. If either of us messes up or makes a mistake, the other person isn’t allowed to talk about it unless the other person specifically asks for feedback the next day.

The effects are magical.

When we take the initiative to ask, it works as a subconscious message to the other person that we’re working on it… and that we care to work on it. The boundaries on talking about the mistakes creates a safe space for each other to try and the opportunity for the other to exercise grace and patience – all of which are essential for optimal learning and growing. By holding our tongue, we may either be pleasantly surprised OR at the very least be able to rest assured that we’ll be heard by the next day – especially with the other partner taking the initiative to ask for feedback.

Since we’ve started this, we’ve found that our “lists of 20 different things” the other person could work on was really more like three or four. Sometimes, it even gets difficult to think of things for the other person to work on. There are days we even make up our own challenges and ask for the others’ perspective and thoughts – which was a surprising twist if you ask me.

The bitterness has subsided long ago and… ahhhh alright, it’s been freaking great.

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