It’s not about the toilet seat or the toothpaste cap. It’s not about who puts the kids to bed, who walks the dog, who left the dishes in the sink last night.

It’s not about your 12-year old leaving homework for the last minute and asking you to check it just as you think you’re finally “off duty.” And this is the second time this week. It may be habitual. It may be occasional.

It’s friction – with your spouse, with your lover, with your kids, between your kids. Don’t we all have to learn to deal with it? Otherwise, wouldn’t we bail if we encountered it?

Is it reasonable to expect smooth sailing all the time, in every relationship?

There are moments when you’re out of sorts, when something gets under your skin, when you overreact. Maybe you yell. Maybe you sulk. You take a remark personally and you can’t quite let it go.

Maybe you begin to doubt yourself, the relationship, the quality of the relationship. But does friction necessarily mean your relationship is troubled – whether you’re dealing with another adult or a child?

Annoying Habits

If my partner hops out of bed after a great night’s sleep and pops Satisfaction into the CD player, my nerves will be jangled. I love the quiet when I first wake.

If he’s chatty and perky while I slept poorly, then his innocent good mood may be irksome to me and he’ll never even know it. What’s the result?

Friction. Or the possibility of friction, unless I say something. Nicely.

When my son rode to school with me each morning, he was in his early quiet space. If I engaged him beyond a sentence or two in the car, he was irritated. Friction followed, along with hurt feelings and guilt for both of us. His, for snapping or seeming to be rude. Mine, for forgetting that he needs his morning silence, just as I need mine.

Contentious Relationships

Some people thrive on stormy relationships – their cycles of passionate rows and equally passionate making up. That’s a whole other subject, and not the stuff of minor (or major) issues that may cause contentious relationships.

A difference in value systems? You’re likely headed for trouble.

A difference in interests and personalities? Something to be managed – but also enjoyed.

As for differences to do with character, temperament, behaviors, and habits – whatever the relationship, it’s normal to exercise differing approaches, to experience differing attitudes, and to bear differing tolerance for noise, commotion, distraction, fatigue, hunger, pain – what is physical and what is sensory.

It’s also usual to have differences in how you communicate, as well as the emotional elements that induce you to do so. But communication is nonetheless key – whether dealing with enduring differences or immediate ones.

Types of Relationship Differences

According to Psych Central, enduring differences are

expectations learned from one’s family-of-origin (for example, gender roles) and longstanding character traits (for example, submissiveness).

These seem to be candidates where lack of attention may cause conversation to flare into argument; where we ought to try accepting the other person for who he or she is – without taking things personally.

Psych Central distinguishes enduring differences from immediate differences.

Immediate differences are concrete, situation-specific, and do not persist as frustrating arguments.

Immediate difference negotiation is idea-centered.

Discussion, or more specifically, negotiation, is recommended as a means for dealing with these sources of contention. Immediate issues need to be dealt with quickly, so they don’t turn into enduring differences.

Name That Tune! Solutions (And Satisfaction)

If listening to Rolling Stones first thing in the morning isn’t your thing – but it puts a smile on the face of the person you love, there are practical ways to deal with the situation – headphones for the Keith Richards junkie, or a change of rooms to find your 15 minutes of morning quiet.

Either way, talking about it increases the likelihood of arriving at a satisfying resolution.

Guilting the other person into change? Feeling guilty yourself because you aren’t a saint? Not productive! Listen. Negotiate. Compromise.

And then there’s being proactive – heading off friction before it occurs. If your partner wakes in a bad mood, what about asking if he slept well? If there’s something bothering him? If your teenager is grumpy, what’s the likelihood he simply needs food?

More serious causes of friction? Try a little patience along with empathy. When we trust enough to tell each other our stories, our origins, our feelings – aren’t we more likely to look for a solution?

Men, Women, Communication

As a general rule, men and women communicate differently. Men are more likely to speak their minds; women, typically, internalize and take things personally.

We also know that men tend to think or feel, whereas women think and feel – simultaneously. We’re wired differently. We need to cut each other a break, recognize the differences, and behave accordingly.

Women could can the accusatory tone, for example, and men might pick their words more diplomatically. All of us could do with banishing the exasperated sigh or storming out of a room – none of which helps the other understand what just occurred.

The other. That vital reminder that there are two in the relationship.

Disagreements? Annoying habits?

Friction is inevitable. The trick is to articulate rather than escalate. If something is troubling you, speak up! Last I heard, none of us were mind readers.