These things may not really lead to separation but it dulls my love for him (Photo: Courtesy)

Hi Chris,

I love my husband, I really do, and he is still the guy who won my heart all those years ago. But he can also be forgetful, lazy, untidy and bad-tempered, especially when he has lost his keys!

There are times when he stays out far too late, leaves his dirty clothes all over the house and goes as deaf as a post whenever I want his help with something.

Not the stuff of separation and divorce, I guess, but it definitely dulls my love for the man. I have talked to him about his bad habits, of course, but I just get accused of nagging.

And I will admit I do not like myself when I nag. All I want is for him to be just a little nicer. To annoy me a little less, and to be easier to love. Any advice?

Irritated

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Chris says,

Hi Irritated!

Nagging is a bad idea and does not work. Instead, you should reward your husband whenever his behaviour moves in the right direction, and ignore everything else.

How does that go in practice? You want your husband to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, so give him a quick smile or a squeeze any time he throws something vaguely in the right direction.

No explanations, just leave his subconscious to figure it out. Ignore anything left lying around without so much as a word. That works because the stuff you reward will happen more often while ignoring bad habits makes them less likely to happen in future.

The idea is that even the smallest consistent reward gradually increases a behaviour. But if there is no response at all, it slowly dies away. Try the same approach on your husband the next time he is throwing a temper tantrum because he cannot find his keys.

Do not react, just go on with what you are doing. It will take a lot of willpower, but without your attention, his temper will slowly die away, and will be less likely to happen again.

Meanwhile, you are learning not to be bugged by his behaviour, and to consider his actions more objectively.

Do not take things personally either. For instance, whenever your husband does something annoying, it does not mean he does not love you, so resist the temptation to confront him. Calmly ignore his annoying habits, and watch for opportunities to reward him anytime he gets things even vaguely right.

It will take a while, but gradually his behaviour will become much more agreeable. You will also enjoy your husband more if you accept the way he does things. So do not insist he follows your rules, like when he is helping you in the kitchen. Or he will end up not helping at all. Purposefully distracting him will also stop him from annoying you.

Play his favourite music to keep him from talking too much. Or you can stop him stealing titbits while you are cooking by putting a bowl of crisps by the TV! Purposefully working on your husband’s behaviour like this is good fun, and he will gradually become a lot less irritating!

All the best,

Chris