Annoying little quirks can chip-chip-chip away at a spouse's sanity

December 29, 1992|By Orlando Sentinel

For Sharon Levanduski, it started 20 years ago.

That's when her husband, John, developed the throat-clearing noise that has plagued her ever since.

It seems her husband helped with the cleanup after Hurricane Agnes tore through their New York town in 1972.

"Apparently from breathing in the dust from the dirt, he developed a horrible habit of frequently clearing his throat -- loudly," says Mrs. Levanduski. "Riding in the car, I've counted up to 12 throat-clearing noises in a single minute."

The good part is that she never loses him in a crowd. "All I have to do is listen."

The bad part is that the repetitive racket irks the heck out of her.

But that's the story of, that's the glory of love -- learning to live with your partner's annoying quirks, habits and obsessions.

The Tavares, Fla., couple, married 32 years, have agreed to disagree -- and occasionally to bug each other -- about his irritating noise.

"I could understand it after the flood, but after 20 years it's just a habit" that he could stop if he wanted to, said Mrs. Levanduski, a 52-year-old nurse.

It's a medical malady, insists Mr. Levanduski, 54. But he acknowledges he has never checked out his diagnosis with a doctor.

"I probably should have gone to the doctor," the computer-science teacher said. "I just never do. I don't like going to doctors."

Instead, he waits till his wife sneezes or coughs. "Then he tells me I could stop doing that if I wanted to," she said.

Mrs. Levanduski tries to be tolerant, she really does.

"I don't say too much," she said. "I try to ignore it as much as I can. But when it gets to me, I'll say, 'Please stop that' while gritting my teeth. Or I'll threaten to chew some gum and start snapping it because he can't stand it. I've learned how to snap real good."

Spoilsports that they are, counselors say revenge isn't the best way to handle marital peeves.

Rather, couples can handle these irritations "by listening, understanding, discussing," said Johanna Jordan, an Orlando, Fla., marriage and family therapist.

Don't blame and criticize, she suggested.

"Let the other person know how you feel [about the behavior you dislike], see these things in the context of a committed, long-term relationship. Of course, that may be positive or negative, depending on the intensity" of the peeve.

That is, if your sweetie does something that drives you bonkers, the thought of spending the rest of your life enduring it may be too much to take.

On the other hand, a habit that only mildly annoys you is hardly worth haggling over for the rest of your life.

That's the way Diann and Bruce Curry of Orlando look at it.

After a year of marriage, Mrs. Curry, a secretary, has some very definite peeves about her beloved husband, a swimming pool designer.

"Empty ice trays in the freezer!" she says. "Dirty ashtrays!"

Then there's her husband's clean-clothes obsession.

"My husband can put something on just long enough to run up to the store, come home and throw it in the dirty clothes," she says. "He might have only worn the article for 10 minutes, but you can be sure it's going in the dirty clothes, not to be worn again until he takes it back out of the drawer, or off the hanger, fresh from the laundry."

Early on, Mrs. Curry made some attempts at changing Mr. Curry's behavior. But not for long.

"After a few times of saying something and not getting any response, you just figure what the hell? I'm stuck with it," said Mrs. Curry, 43.

Right she is, Mr. Curry says.

"I am the way I am and she understood that. She knew what she was getting."

Besides, he has a few peeves of his own.

"She might just take a pot with food in it off the stove and stick it right into the refrigerator. It's frightening," said Mr. Curry, 35.

But he doesn't make a federal case out of it. "It's not something I lose sleep over or anything."

Such a laid-back attitude on the part of at least one spouse seems to keep peeves in their place -- minor annoyances rather than major conflicts.

At the Casselberry, Fla., home of financial planners David and Betty Bookhardt, neither bothers denying the accuracy of the other's peeves.

Instead, both proffer peeves of their own.

"He snores and I hate it," says Mrs. Bookhardt, 39.

"She overcommits to everybody and everything," says Mr. Bookhardt, 34.

Not only that, but "she's a pack rat -- in the house, in the attic, in the car, everywhere."

"You ought to see his closet, you'd die," says Mrs. Bookhardt. "It's color-coordinated, everything is starched. One row is T-shirts; all of his shirts are so starched they could stand in a corner."

Mind you, both Bookhardts are giggling even as they compete for peeve one-upmanship.

Humor is their way of handling their gripes about each other. Humor and romance.

"What happens typically when people get married is that they quit courting," he says. The sweet-nothings cease, the surprise gifts end.

On top of that, he says, they've quit showing their best side.

"Once they're married, they let the walls down and expose who they really are, which is fine. But when you're getting all the negatives and none of the positives, it doesn't make for a healthy relationship."

So he and Mrs. Bookhardt -- married a year -- leaven their peeving with lots of courting and cutting up.

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