The first chapter of Dr Jane Gregory’s recently published book Sounds Like Misophonia* is titled: ‘If you loved me, you’d breathe quietly’. It is an exploration of misophonia, a disorder defined by the NHS as being ‘an extreme emotional reaction to certain everyday sounds that most people would find relatively easy to ignore’. In other words, it is a bible for anyone who has ever listened to their spouse chomping loudly on cereal and seriously contemplated divorce.
But what if thunderous chewing is only the start? What if someone walks too quickly? Or always leaves the doors to kitchen cupboards slightly ajar? Or drops his or her towel breezily on the bathroom floor and never considers picking it back up again? We asked four writers to share what annoys them most about their husbands and wives.
DAMP LAUNDRY & MISSING DOG LEADS
Name Mary Killen
Married to Giles Wood
The problem These are some of the things I find annoying about Giles: the turning down of every social invitation so that he can do more gardening, me having to expend depleted reserves of energy on persuading him to go, then he goes and is on marvellous form and everyone says, ‘Giles was such fun but Mary seemed a bit flat.’
Hanging wet clothes from a hook in the beam of our sitting room or on the curtain rail on the grounds that they ‘need to be aired’. There they remain, dangling in your field of vision even though we have an electric clothes horse. Moreover, they give the wrong impression to smart neighbours going past.
MARY KILLEN (pictured with husband Giles Wood): These are some of the things I find annoying about Giles: the turning down of every social invitation so that he can do more gardening, me having to expend depleted reserves of energy on persuading him to go, then he goes and is on marvellous form and everyone says, ‘Giles was such fun but Mary seemed a bit flat.’
Shouting up the staircase all day: ‘Mary?!’ I then have to get up from my desk, cross the room and open the door and call ‘Yes?’
‘Where is the coffee?/the dog lead?/Where are my walking boots?/my binoculars?’ So, I reply, ‘In the usual place.’
‘No, it’s/they’re not there.’
I go down and walk to the usual place and hand him the ‘missing’ thing and he replies, ‘Well, it wasn’t there a few minutes ago. You must have put it there to gaslight me and make me think I am going mad.’
The worst thing of all is the shouting from the room he is in, rather than walking towards the room where I am and speaking his question. It’s all very disruptive. And when I do run down the stairs to help him find the thing, he stands blocking the doorway I am trying to go through. When I say, ‘Can you get out of my way?’ He replies, ‘There’s no need to be aggressive. We’re not in Northern Ireland now.’
He doesn’t answer knocks on the front door on the grounds that ‘I’m not expecting anyone’ or ‘People should know better than to drop in without ringing first.’
‘But they did ring first,’ I screamed at him the other day. It was the plumber.
(I had just popped into the garden for a moment to hang clothes on the line). ‘I told you he was coming.’
‘Yes, but I didn’t know you were talking to me because so often when I think you are talking to me you say that you are actually talking on headphones to someone on your mobile. So I’ve learnt not to listen when you are talking.’
Nor does he answer the landline, which is a good thing because, stuck in the pre-fraud-boom 1970s as he is, he would more than likely be inclined to blab out his sort code and account number to anyone who asked. Even worse, he doesn’t carry a mobile, which is the ultimate in passive aggression.
But all in all, I can’t overlook the fact that he does the driving, the gardening, the dog walking and the cooking. As my older friend Anne constantly reminds me, I would be paying a fortune were I to have to employ a retinue of staff to perform these functions.
On the other hand I wouldn’t be so psychically drained.
COSTLY GREETINGS CARDS AND IMPRACTICAL IRONING
Name Giles Wood
Married to Mary Killen
The problem It helps to marry someone roughly from the same background as yourself so you don’t get into a muddle when your partner says, for example, ‘Let’s have tea.’ We both came from medical families hailing from provincial middle-class backgrounds and therefore we are culturally congenial. However, we live differently to our parents’ generation and we are without domestic help. For this reason I don’t want Mary to spend her precious man hours (I use the term advisedly) ironing and folding her inherited collection of Irish linen napkins and tablecloths, which may or may not have only been used once.
My wife has a Hyacinth Bucket streak to her character and is constantly trying to raise the tone of our marriage in our ramshackle country cottage nicknamed the ‘grottage’. An argument always ensues when she brings out the linen napery.
What will she revive next? Irish linen napkins may have their place on special occasions or religious festivals but I think they belong to yesteryear. We simply don’t live like that any more. They belong to the world of Upstairs Downstairs when the full-time job of one member of staff would have been washing and ironing napkins (and inserting them into silver napkin rings).
What’s wrong with using super-absorbent paper towels, or kitchen roll, which is used in almost every other household, to mop up our modern messes?
If left to her own devices, my wife would probably put antimacassars on every chair back. Incidentally, a single male friend of ours made the mistake of buying a headboard for his bed which, I have pointed out, acts as a promacassar.
Next week, while she goes to the Isle of Mull in Scotland for a week of socialising, leaving me in the cottage, I will revert to type. Out will go the tablecloths and on will go some sports pages of the Sunday papers, so good at absorbing spillages from ketchup and mayonnaise left by messy eaters.
While she is away I will probably have a log fire in the grate, all the better to dry overalls with the residual heat from the hearth. No doubt I will also hang clothes from the curtain rail facing the street in a process Mary calls ‘Gorbals-isation’.
You could say my wife is upwardly mobile and I am downwardly so. I am against all forms of extravagance and I am dreading Mary coming back from Mull with another £100 worth of greeting cards that she buys from an upper-class woman who lives on the island and glues pressed flowers and locally sourced sea shells on to them before she sells them at £6 a time.
While she is away, I will ‘offset’ her extravagance by eating up the tins of sardines that I panic-bought at Lidl during Covid and lockdown.
Marriage is like the changing weather.
The earth’s system is in a constant struggle to maintain equilibrium. Nevertheless the institution needs support and we can’t afford to run two houses.
NICORETTE GUM AND NIGHTLY SNORING
Name Rachel Johnson
Married to Ivo Dawnay
The problem There are three of us in my marriage: my husband, me – and his first love, Nicorette.
Each box contains 210 pieces and costs £27, and he never doesn’t have a packet of it on his person and one piece in his mouth. He claims that his chomping of this pricey nicotine-infused putty has saved him from a certain death from the lung cancer that sadly claimed his father in his 60s. He claims that it has stopped him from smoking 40 cigarettes a day for decades.
Both of these things may be true but it doesn’t stop me loathing the habit with a barely controlled fury and finding the daytime constant clacking even more annoying than the nightly snoring.
Ivo Dawnay and Rachel Johnson attend the V&A Summer Party and DIVA exhibition preview, supported by Net-A-Porter, on June 21
And I’m afraid the noise pollution is only the start of it. There’s also the smell. The sight of the ever-working jaws. The fact that he never doesn’t have a damp pad of gum in his mouth somewhere. The fact that I find the hard white chewed pellets everywhere, and
I mean everywhere. The bed. My washbag. On every surface.
I FIND HIS HARD WHITE CHEWED GUM PELLETS EVERYWHERE – THE BED, MY WASHBAG AND EVERY SURFACE
I have tried introducing a unique concept – disposing of the gum in a waste receptacle. I even bought half a dozen little bins and dotted them around – but he still flicks them out of car windows and leaves them by the side of the bath.
I’ve also tried recommending alternatives. ‘I’ve heard the patch/spray works very well,’
I say hopefully, ‘and there are lozenges that you can suck.’ No good. I have considered writing an Alan Carr-type book about how to give up the gum that makes you give up smoking, as I know more people addicted to Nicorette than who smoke. But the truth is, I don’t know the secret. All I do know is that he will always choose Nicorette over me.
DISCARDED TEA BAGS AND BLATANT DECEIT
Name Stuart Heritage
Married to Robyn Wilder
The problem Early on in our relationship, I decided to go and cook for my wife. However, once I found myself in her kitchen, I saw something truly horrifying. There, balanced on the end of the sink, was an old teaspoon that had a manky old used tea bag on it. ‘That’s pretty gross,’ I said as I checked back in with her a few moments later. ‘It is, isn’t it?’ agreed my wife. ‘My housemate does it. I can’t stand it either.’
Things moved on. We fell in love. We moved in together. And a few days after that, I went to the kitchen to get a drink.
STUART HERITAGE (pictured with wife Robyn Wilder): Early on in our relationship, I decided to go and cook for my wife. However, once I found myself in her kitchen, I saw something truly horrifying. There, balanced on the end of the sink, was an old teaspoon that had a manky old used tea bag on it
And, you guessed it, I saw an old teaspoon balanced on the end of the sink, with a manky old used tea bag on it.
Like the detective figuring out Keyser Söze’s true identity at the end of The Usual Suspects, the horrible truth came to me in a flash. It wasn’t her housemate. It never had been her housemate. It was her all along. She was the one who fished the tea bags out of her mugs but couldn’t throw them away.
IS MY WIFE JUST TOO LAZY TO REACH SIX INCHES TO THE RIGHT AND THROW HER MANKY OLD USED TEA BAG AWAY?
She not only did this – she lied to me about doing it. The deceit! We had a fight about it. It’s the same fight that we’ve been having for almost a decade now, because she won’t stop bloody doing it.
I cannot possibly rationalise the impetus for her persisting. Is she saving the tea bags for something? Is she too lazy to reach six inches to the right and throw it away properly? Does she hope they’ll somehow biodegrade on the spoon? Is she doing it to drive me crazy?
Because, if she is, it’s working. I look 20 years older than I actually am, and it’s entirely down to the stress of the tea bag thing.