In close and long-standing relationships, both parties expect that whatever really matters to one person will matter equally to the other person. This is true no matter how small the issue, item, or grievance. For this reason, small issues and irritants can sometimes become big issues over time, as they become symbolic in the relationship.
Have you ever wondered why a small issue — like glasses on coasters, drawers left open, car seats in the wrong position, keys not returned to the proper spot, interruptions in team meetings — can fracture the tranquility of a relationship? It’s because the act has become symbolic of something more. Namely, the issue or irritant now represents the notion that the other party doesn’t care enough to focus on what matters to you.
Having our feelings disregarded is worth fighting over, or so it seems in many relationships where small issues metastasize into conflict. This is true in both family and professional relationships.
The symbolism important in close relationships can be a challenge for those unaware of it. Over time, when one party explains repeatedly to the other party how what they do bothers them, it no longer becomes about the offensive behavior. Understanding how a simple act can come to carry larger meaning in a relationship is essential knowledge. This is true in long-standing relationships in both family and professional settings.
Appreciating when often mindless acts become symbolic is not enough. To avoid unnecessary conflict, both parties in a committed relationship must listen closely to what matters to the other, irrespective of how small, petty, or trivial it might seem. Working hard to address the small things that bother others before they become emblematic of how much you care is critical. Did you leave your coffee cup in the sink again?