We all have a list of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” inside our head. We share many of these. Children who are hungry or hurt. Animal cruelty. Greedy people amassing fortunes while ruining the environment.

Some things make the list because they are dangerous, like food service workers who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and drivers who move into our lane without signalling. 

Most “rules” in our society are based on common sense for the good of everyone. A lot of frustration in our life comes from people believing in different rules or thinking the rules don’t apply to them.

Let’s bring this closer to home. What are the “rules” in your household? Not just the big ones, like decisions about spending and saving. What are the little irritations that bug you through the day? Living with someone is fertile ground for frustration. 

Should clothes you are going to wear another day be hung neatly in a closet or is it okay to store them on a chair near the bed? 

Should your kitchen be clean before you go to bed or is it okay to leave it and clean up in the morning? 

What does a clean kitchen mean? For some, it means loading the dishwasher and giving the counter and table a swipe with a damp cloth. Other people are more thorough, using hot soapy water and moving things around to clean up. When the job is done right, they can go to bed happy.

What does it mean that the person you live with won’t follow your rules? 

In our cognitive mind, we can agree that, within reason, all the adults in a house have a right to live as they like. When we don’t naturally agree, we negotiate. 

“No screens at the table is important to me because I want to connect while we eat. Will you agree to that?” Most of us wouldn’t say “No, I prefer texting with my friends to talking with you”. We may or may not comply willingly though. 

Do you get irritated or outraged around these things? Someone leaves their shoes at the door to trip over. Our partner walks through the kitchen with dirty shoes, then does a quick sweep and calls it done. One person gets frustrated, yells and kicks something. We lie in bed unable to sleep because the tv is on too loud. We come home to find every light in the house is on.

It isn’t that rules are wrong. It is okay to expect people we live with to be considerate and safe.

It disturbs us because it lands hard on our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. It triggers feelings of powerlessness and core deficiency beliefs like unworthiness. Not following the rules of the house is symbolic for bigger issues like respect, shaming, and inclusion.

Don’t they see it shouldn’t be this way? Can’t they see it upsets me? Don’t they care about me at all? If they loved me, they wouldn’t keep doing this. It’s so simple. Is this really too much to ask? 

Working with this can be a deep mindfulness practice in the moment or for later inquiry, after things have settled. Take a few deep breaths. Relax your shoulders.

Are you in danger? If so, there are concrete steps to take to ensure your safety. In this article, we are looking at daily irritations that flare up and disconnect us from the people we live with. Some of these will trigger feelings of being unsafe. Being around someone angry triggers fear and we might respond with our own fight response, flee (physically or emotionally) or go into freeze. It is helpful to look at our troubling interactions through a trauma lens. When our reaction is because of fear, we need reassurance and safety. 

What does it mean that this person “doesn’t even care enough about me to …”? Your partner thinks this is about a messy bedroom. They get their back up. “This is my house too and I don’t want to do it that way. What’s the big deal? Get off my back.” They don’t know this is really about you not feeling loved and validated. For you, a messy bedroom makes you edgy. “It’s so simple to put your clothes away before bed. You know that would make me feel better. Why can’t you just do that?”

Working deeply with “minor” irritations can help us see with more clarity. We can see through our own core deficiency beliefs. We can heal our nervous system. 

What are the real deal-breakers? “I can’t live with someone who yells at me.” 

There is so much we can do. We can approach our partner to negotiate about behavior without shaming them. We can cultivate kindness and compassion for ourselves and each other. We can remind ourselves that a messy kitchen doesn’t mean anything about our intrinsic value or their love for us. They simply see it a different way. Maybe they don’t have the capacity to be as mindful as we would like. We can work with widening our window of tolerance for what is acceptable and where we can still feel safe.