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November 28, 2023

Do you keep a running mental tab of your partner’s flaws — saying nothing while privately tallying moments like these: 

"She overdrew our bank account again!" 

"Again he left the milk out when he came to bed last night!" 

"She forgot to set out the trash again this morning!" 

"I told him I don’t like tulips and yet he keeps bringing them home!" 

You may think you’re avoiding conflict by not commenting, not complaining, not criticizing.  But unless you’re actively practicing letting go of such moments — unless you’re releasing your irritation and retiring your mental spreadsheet of his or her flaws — you may be stockpiling irritation and resentment. That stockpile can trap you in a state of simmering negativity while shaping a perceptual bias that filters out what’s positive. 

In other words, tallying flaws tends to create an artificially inflated sense of what’s wrong, which research has found stands in the way of noticing what’s right. This perceptual bias shapes a distorted, unbalanced view of your partner. Furthermore, when knowledge of the tally inevitably leaks out, a partner may feel diminished in confidence and self-esteem as well as a reciprocal measure of resentment. Now the relationship is undermined from both sides.  

A key element of healthy relationships is a sense of emotional safety. When partners know (or sense) that their flaws and missteps are being tallied, they can easily grow insecure about what they do and say, fearing judgment. Emotional safety takes a hit.  

And if we’re having a comparatively harder time noticing what’s good and what’s right, we’re less likely to engage in another key relationship-strengthening behavior: voicing appreciation (see Thank You). 

In truth, flaw tallying can be hard to resist owing to negativity bias: our species’ innate tendency to notice what’s wrong rather than what’s right. Evolutionary psychologists assert that our early ancestors developed keen radar to notice what’s wrong as a means of staying alert to danger. One hundred thousand years later, it’s an instinctive tendency that continues to persist.  

Catch yourself in the act of tallying flaws: notice it, consider the toll it takes on your relationship, and let it go.