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Airing minor annoyances is good for relationships? I'm not so sure

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Cathy Yeulet/Thinkstock

The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.

I knew that convincing my boyfriend to participate in this week's challenge would be a tough sell. And I was not mistaken. "How is that different from nagging?" was his response to my proposal that we spend a few days vocalizing all of those little annoyances that generally get swept under ye olde relationship rug. He made a good point (though he did agree to participate provided he could have his say). It's only logical to assume that, in relationships, the "don't sweat the small stuff" mantra is the path to contentment. For instance, John rarely complains when I forget to lock the back door. I generally grin and bear it when he decides to start playing guitar in the middle of one of my TV shows. (John: "Or are you watching TV in the middle of my guitar room?") We are, more often than not, a happy pair. But does avoidance of boat-rocking make us ill-equipped for choppy waters?

A recent study from Florida State University reveals a downside to ignoring the things that irk us in relationships. Forgiveness may indeed be a divine act, but apparently it is also a good way to build up resentment (which explains why I have occasionally been known to fly off the handle when I find dental floss in the shower). Lead researcher James McNulty says that the short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation is outweighed by the benefits of letting the other person know how you are feeling. A second recent study (this one conducted under my own roof) would beg to differ.

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Diplomatic overtures

On Day One of telling-it-like-it-is, John and I embarked on a faux family outing to the Canadian National Exhibition (faux because the children belong to our friends). Observation 1: There is no time for sweating the small stuff while trying to ensure the safety of two small kids at the Ex. Observation 2: Because we were "doing the experiment," both of us reverted to the early-courtship versions of ourselves to avoid criticism, or at least that's what I was doing. (John: "I wasn't doing that. I guess I'm just naturally less annoying.")

Things did get a little heated during a game of Whac-A-Mole, at which point John reminded me that it was just a game. And that I was playing with a five-year-old. I can get a little competitive. (John: "And the Pope is a little bit Catholic.")

The truth will not set you free

My theory is that that everyone's worst quality is simply a warped version of his or her best quality. One of the best things about John is that he is super easy-going. This endears him to many (myself included), but can sometimes mean that he is little loose with schedule keeping. Long story short: We were late to meet my mom because someone didn't get into the shower on time, even though someone else (me) had been pretty specific about what time we were supposed to leave. This really bothered me in an "I don't just talk to hear myself speak" sort of way (John: "Nag alert!"). That said, it was the sort or irritation that will almost always dissipate in minutes if not seconds, so why bother? (Unless you happen to be participating in an open-displays-of-annoyance experiment.)

Using my most diplomatic and least cranky voice, I broached the subject. Without getting into the details of our exchange, let's just say that that the end result was mutual defensiveness and irritability. On the plus side, we were on our way to a family tennis match. To quote John: "Oh well, at least we can take all of this aggression on the tennis court." Both of us were long over it by the time we hit the courts.

That's pretty much how the week went – some niggling, no major drama. I had thought that the open season on kvetching would be liberating. Instead it just highlighted the pettiness of day-to-day peeves. Of course I'd rather John spend less money on records, and he would rather I "not write about our personal life in a national newspaper." The flip side of the Florida state findings is the fact that by giving oxygen to these tiny embers of annoyance, we may come to find ourselves dealing with a bonfire of fury. Kinda makes an upturned toilet seat (John: "I have never done that!") seem like no big deal.

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Next challenge: All right, challenge takers – time to lose the booze! How attached are you to that nightly glass of wine (or three – hiccup). Is alcohol a social crutch? Does spending time as a teetotaller at a party sound like no biggie or a fate worse than death? Let us know at

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