Have you ever felt frustrated by your partner’s annoying habits or tendencies, but struggled with how to address them constructively? We all have patterns that can unintentionally harm our relationships if left unchecked. A couple of months ago, I had one of those moments that made me realize my own need for improvement.

It was just after dinner, and as my partner got up to take a shower without clearing his plate, the words flew out of my mouth: Put your plate away before you take a shower!”

His response caught me off guard: “There was a nicer way to ask me that. That was like a B minus.”

Before he even said it, I knew he was right. My blunt, commanding tone wasn’t going to inspire him to actually want to clear his plate (even if he did it) – it would just lead to resentment. This interaction sparked a realization about how we communicate and address issues in our relationship.

The Reality of Relationship Patterns

We all have tendencies or patterns that can frustrate our partners. For me, it’s being overly harsh, controlling, and obsessed with efficiency. For you, it might be:

  • Shutting down during disagreements
  • Making little digs about their family
  • Always being late

While these patterns are normal to have, they are not ideal, and can chip away at intimacy and connection over time. The challenge lies in addressing these issues without causing further conflict or resentment.

Dr Zhana H 2023

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A Simple Solution: The Grading System

Inspired by my partner’s “B minus” comment, we stumbled upon a simple yet effective solution: grading each other. No, I’m not suggesting giving your partner a report card (though that could be fun!). I’m talking about using a college-style grading system from F to A to provide feedback in the moment, or after you’ve had time to think and process what happened.

Here’s how it works:

  1. If one of us does something inconsiderate or hurtful, we can grade the behavior on that scale.
  2. An “F” is for major offenses, a “D” or “C” for smaller slip-ups, and anything “B+” or higher is acceptable.
  3. The grade sparks a conversation about the behavior and how to improve it.

In the plate scenario, I got a “B minus” – not a failing grade, but it sparked a conversation about speaking with more compassion. We brainstormed better approaches, like:

  • “When you have a moment, could you put your plate in the dishwasher? Thanks!”
  • Or with a playful nudge, “Pretty please put your plate away before showering, and you’ll get a kiss!😉

Benefits of the Grading System

Using the grading scale offers several advantages:

  1. Prevents personal attacks: It’s not “You’re so lazy and inconsiderate!” It’s just “That particular behavior was a C, here’s why…, and let’s think about some ways we can get it to an A.”
  2. Promotes objectivity: It allows you to discuss issues objectively and come up with solutions together, instead of one partner dominating or shutting down the other.
  3. Addresses small issues: It helps address small issues before they accumulate and potentially explode into larger problems.
  4. Eases feedback: The familiar grading system makes it easier to provide and receive feedback in a lighthearted way.
  5. Encourages mindfulness: It encourages both partners to be more mindful of their behaviors and how they impact the relationship.

Implementing the Grading System

Of course, this system might not work for everyone. For it to be effective, both partners need to be:

a) Aware and accepting of the fact they have some patterns that might be hurtful to their partner

b) Interested in changing those patterns with the help of their partner

c) Receptive to feedback

When I first suggested the grading system, my partner initially balked at it: “I’m not doing that!” he said emphatically. He feared it might be a conflict trap or that he’d be constantly walking on eggshells (especially since I’m already critical enough).

Important to remember: Like almost all agreements and dynamics in a couple, it doesn’t have to be used by both partners. There are other ways to provide feedback, and you should find one that works for you.

To prevent “walking on eggshells” situations, you can also explicitly limit the system to specific behavioral patterns rather than applying it to any and every behavior that might irk the other person.

The Impact on Our Relationship

Since starting to use this system, I’ve become much more aware of my demanding tone. My partner feels heard and respected. And we’re both able to joke about our quirks while celebrating progress.

We’ve found that it’s crucial to reward good behavior – with kisses, cuddles, or whatever works for you two! This positive reinforcement helps balance out the constructive criticism and keeps the mood light and loving.

Conclusion

Relationships require constant communication and compromise. This grading model is an easy way to smooth out those incompatibility “rough patches” before they become canyons. It provides a framework for addressing issues in a non-confrontational way and encourages both partners to work together towards improvement.

While it might feel a bit silly to “grade” your loved one at first, the results can be transformative. It opens up channels of communication, fosters understanding, and helps both partners grow together.

Remember, the goal isn’t perfection – it’s progress. By implementing a system like this, you’re showing your commitment to the relationship and your willingness to work on yourself. And that, in itself, deserves an A+.