Love And The Comfort Zone: When Do Unpleasant Habits Backfire?

By Jessica Reynolds
Chicago Tribune.

At the start of every relationship, both people put forth every effort to present the best version of themselves. Hair is clean and coiffed, manners are accounted for and each person dresses to impress. But as several months pass and the couple grows closer, different people start to emerge.

Welcome to the world of sweatpants, messy hair and gross behaviors. Things you would normally do only in private, burping, eating like a slob, passing gas, picking your nose, you may feel free to do in front of the other person because you assume they will be fine with it.

But that isn’t always the case.

“Ideally, you want to be able to push the margins and be completely comfortable and open with your partner, so that you could potentially keep the bathroom door open, go without makeup, belch, etc., but if that’s the rule of thumb (all the) time, it can become a turnoff,” said Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist based in New York.

Sure, it’s natural to let one’s guard down and reveal the real you as the relationship evolves, but don’t leave behind the person your partner fell for initially.

“Being yourself also includes consideration for the other person and showing them the best of you, in addition to the worst of you,” Greer said. “You want your partner to feel that they are the most important person in your life, not the least.”

Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and relationship expert based in Beverly Hills, Calif., said that, before couples decide to let it all hang out, they should remember the phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

“Once you start tearing down the walls and acting like your significant other isn’t in the room, you will lose any allure or air of mystery that you once had,” Lieberman said. It could jeopardize the romance in the relationship, and after a while, you may wish you had never seen this side of your partner. It may cause you to lose respect for each other, she warned.

Getting too “up close and personal” with a partner may also tempt a wandering eye. For instance, Lieberman said, “When you see other potential mates whose bodily functions you haven’t been exposed to, they seem more alluring.”

But Stan Tatkin, couples therapist in Calabasas, Calif., and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said it is inevitable that with time the mystery and excitement surrounding a relationship will fade, no matter what two people do.

“There’s no way to preserve that new car smell,” he said. The way to keep the passion alive is to never stop paying attention to your partner. Continue to listen, to watch and to learn more about them every day, he said.

“You can’t make yourself mysterious and have a secure relationship,” Tatkin added. “But you can stay in love by being yourself and staying transparent.”

What if both partners in a relationship are on board with getting up close and personal?

That’s the case for Elisa, who lives in New York but who did not want her last name to be used. She said in her previous relationships she never felt comfortable displaying habits that might be considered nasty. She would sometimes skip the makeup in front of her former boyfriends, but that was it. With her fiance, she doesn’t have the same reservations.

“I don’t think anything really crosses the line,” she said. “Everyone does all these things, so if you feel comfortable enough with each other, then it shouldn’t stop you from being open about these usually private things.”

But there is one activity, known to be a highly divisive issue for some couples, that she isn’t 100 percent comfortable with yet.

“Sometimes I feel a bit weird about leaving the bathroom door open, but (my fiance) always says, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just me,'” Elisa said.

Couples should be upfront about what habits make them uncomfortable and voice that concern sooner rather than later, Lieberman recommended.

“It all depends on what is personally disgusting to you and your partner,” Greer said. “If you find none of the things your partner does unappealing, there’s no need to worry about being open and sharing them with your partner.”

And, Tatkin added, when living with someone else, you want to feel fully at home with that person. Maintaining a playfulness with your partner and being comfortable with each other’s bodies and less-than-sexy habits is always a good thing.

If one partner is disgusted by the actions of the other, the grossed-out partner should address the situation before the habit becomes commonplace. Disgust is a powerful emotion, Tatkin said, and one that can cause us to push people away.

Sidebar: Advice for couples

You shouldn’t have to be at the top of your game around your significant other 24/7, but there should be a balance. Experts shared their advice to help couples talk about and determine their own comfort levels and what extra efforts should never fall by the wayside.

Personal hygiene is a must. Sure, there will be days when you skip the shower, but don’t make it a regular habit. If your partner asks when you last showered or brushed your teeth, don’t take offense. But it’s a good idea to take that shower or brush your teeth immediately because you probably smell. “If you wouldn’t go out in public without showering, don’t do it in front of your partner,” Greer said.

Speak up when something grosses you out. Sitting by silently while the person you hope to spend the rest of your life with behaves in a way that repulses you isn’t helping the longevity of your relationship. Don’t be afraid to say, “It turns me off when you do this” or “It makes me feel less respect for you when you do this,” Lieberman said.

Don’t ignore your partner’s complaints. If your significant other has told you for the millionth time that he or she can’t stand it when you burp, don’t continue to do it and assume it’s a cute annoyance. This will cause the problem to explode, Tatkin said.
_ J.R.

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