I married a fidgeter. Help me live with it!
March 17, 2010 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me be less bothered by my husband's habit of worrying things and gnawing on them.

I married a fidgeter. We have a great relationship and have been living together for several years. Generally speaking, I can ignore 80% of his quirky habits, this one included. But there are times when I just want to snatch whatever he's got in his hands or mouth (silverware, yo-yos, pens, flexible sewing rulers, bent up paperclips he found on the floor...) and lecture him like he's a little kid.

My feelings are particularly irrational when it comes to him popping small bits of metal in his mouth (I kiss him! Those bits of metal are dirty and tastes icky!), and objects that make a lot of noise when accidentally dropped on our hardwood floors because he's flipping them from hand to hand. He says he usually doesn't even realize he's doing it until I point it out, and I believe him.

My question(s): what can I do to be less bothered by this behavior? And bits of metal aside, since it's not the movement that's bothering me as much as the noise or potential for things to fall clattering to the floor, are there things I could suggest or buy him that he could do with his hands while say, watching a movie together? Please don't say knitting - it's not in the cards.
posted by deludingmyself to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you negotiate, say, "the 6" flexible sewing rulers and the green PaperMates kept in that particular glass are chewtoys, but not the paperclips or silverware, as paperclips taste nasty and silverware is noisy?"
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fairytale - I'd love to, but he just picks up whatever's at hand. I think it's a near-unconscious behavior, and while we don't get in stupid arguments, I do try to pick my battles (please learn to pick up your dirty plates: yes! please learn to Put That Thing Down: eh, maybe not).

I have tried to put a moratorium on paperclips, and ignore it better, or finding an item that's way more appealing to his fidgety nature. He does have a tendency to pocket or gravitate towards "better" items if they're around.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:06 PM on March 17, 2010

I fidget too, clicky pens being my favorite, but I know that drives my SO crazy, so I have two small collections of figety things on my desk. One collection for when I'm the only person in the room (clicky pens, a snappy plastic thing etc.) and one collection of quiet things for when others are around, perhaps he could try something like that?
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: Phone call + posting fail. "I have tried to put a moratorium on paperclips, with limited success. I'm hoping to ignore it better, or find..."
posted by deludingmyself at 2:08 PM on March 17, 2010

what can I do to be less bothered by this behavior?

You could console yourself that he may be keeping himself in better shape than if he didn't fidget...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:15 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can you surreptitiously coat some of the paperclips in Stop 'n Grow (or whatever that anti-nailbiting lacquer is called) while he's out? That has an immediate ACK BLEEAH NO response to anyone who tries chewing on it.

Or just give in and get him a do-nothing. Best fiddlewidget ever!
posted by scruss at 2:21 PM on March 17, 2010

It sounds like he would respond well if you just offered him an alternate item when figeting with something potentially noisy. Have various stockpiles around of acceptable stuff and just toss him one (and maybe say "use this instead"). He may have to process this for a moment. (Instead of what? Oh, I'm figiting with the fork. Right.) But it avoids any nagging overtones and if someone has to get up to find an acceptable substitute it is you (the person who cares).

No idea if this would work, but what about learning the alphabet in sign langauge and practice it until he can do it without thought?

I'm also guessing that Oriental Trading Company would have large assortments of soft figitable items. Maybe the squishy mini-balls here or the bendable animals
posted by metahawk at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Scruss, what's a do-nothing? A quick Googling fails me.

Metahawk, your strategy is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. I just have to get over the fact that it feels like dealing with either a dog or a three year old. And find the Perfect Fidgeter Widget / adult male teething ring.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:26 PM on March 17, 2010

I am a fidgiter, not quite as bad as what you describe though. I would respond okay to being given an alternate thing to toy with, would be annoyed by being told to flat out stop it, and would be pretty upset by having items surreptitiously covered in nasty tasting stuff.

Although I have to say even with #1, it's not "GREAT!" for me as many times my fidgeting with things are mini play sessions (finding balance points, friction tests, interesting noise production... etc) and being given a lumpy soft thing may just not be that satisfying.
posted by edgeways at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe buy him more mechanical puzzle type toys (there are several versions of rubiks cubes, for instance), the buckyballs magnetic toys, some stress balls, that gyroscope thingy Greg Nog recommended is pretty awesome too... and get used to handing him one of those when he's fidgeting with something else. Designated toys.

He's not doing it to be a pest, so perhaps he'll be amenable to playing with the given toy when you hand it to him, as your signal of "here, you're fidgeting again. play with this." And maybe this will help to train him not to just grab whatever's laying around to fidget with.
posted by lizbunny at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2010

on preview, what metahawk said. Those buckyball magnets are pretty nifty, perfect for fidgeting with, I assure you.
posted by lizbunny at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: deludingmyself: “I think it's a near-unconscious behavior, and while we don't get in stupid arguments, I do try to pick my battles (please learn to pick up your dirty plates: yes! please learn to Put That Thing Down: eh, maybe not). ¶ I have tried to put a moratorium on paperclips, and ignore it better, or finding an item that's way more appealing to his fidgety nature. He does have a tendency to pocket or gravitate towards "better" items if they're around.”

Notice, for one thing, that this isn't something you can really talk through. It subconscious behavior on his part, not something he notices, so it does no good whatsoever to say "please stop doing X" as though he is at the level of noticing it and making a conscious decision. And that's honestly what I think is most frustrating, on both sides; you know he didn't decide to pick that little bolt up and start futzing with it, but good god it's annoying - and he didn't realize he was doing it until you pointed it out, so it puts him on the defensive immediately.

So this is something that requires a sort of intuitive interpersonal communication - it can't really be talked out. You can't really negotiate a compromise on this, because it's subconscious on his part, so he needs help noticing that he's doing it at all; at the same time, it does drive you nuts. I would say that two things are most important in situations like this:

(a) Avoid normative distinctions. Try not to say things like "you really shouldn't do that" or "you should learn to stop fidgeting;" when you point out that he's doing something annoying subconsciously, it's going to put him on the defensive, and you want to minimize that as much as you can. If you put it into words, you should express your feelings about it: 'it annoys me when you do that.' It sounds like you're already pretty understanding about this; good for you.

(b) Communicate non-verbally. This may sound weird, and it's counter intuitive, but trust me, it's golden. The next time he's fidgeting with some little bit of something in his hand subconsciously, do this: move close to him, look him right in the eyes, smile warmly, and then in the same motion use one hand to squeeze his butt and the other hand to take the bit of something out of his hand and put it back where he picked it up from. It doesn't have to be squeezing his butt – touching his arm or his cheek or even kissing him will work just as well – but the interesting thing is that nonverbal communication really works best for these situations.

If you say to him that what he's doing is annoying, you risk having it out, and at the very least you might end up with hurt feelings; but if you show affection whilst at the same time removing the catalyst for his annoying behavior, you're expressing that you'd rather he not do that in a warm and partnerly way. What's more, this works brilliantly precisely because people tend to remember pleasure more than pain; if you get annoyed at him and point it out loudly, it stings a little, and he might not remember next time. Whereas, if you show affection every time he fidgets with something in an annoying way – well, I'm not saying he'll stop fidgeting altogether, but he'll probably stop fidgeting unintentionally. And that's the goal, right?
posted by koeselitz at 2:47 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am a major-league fidgeter, and it would drive my old roommate up the wall. I knew she hated it, but -- like your husband -- I am generally completely oblivious to when I'm fidgeting, which makes it hard to stop. Plus, the fidgeting focuses my attention, so when I tried to stop fidgeting I'd tune her out and feel bad because of that.

Anyway, one day she couldn't stand it anymore and went out and ordered a bunch of fidget toys for me: all soft and quiet, that she wouldn't mind me fidgeting with. I don't know what website she used but she found it by googling "fidget toys" or somesuch. Then she and I dispersed them throughout the house and in my pockets and I was under strict orders to only fidget with them when she was around.

It worked. It helped that I was completely charmed by the gesture. I also felt guilty that she had been driven to such lengths, so I tried very hard to remember. Fidgeting with inappropriate things in her presence was cut down by a good 80%. As long as you're patient and don't turn it into a major emotional battle, I'm sure he'll do his best to go along with whatever you suggest, because he doesn't want to be a pest.
posted by forza at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Go to officeplayground.com and get some of their fidget toys as an alternative.

My dad (inadvertently) broke me of my habit of chewing on pens when I was in elementary school because he used the pen caps to clean out his ears. I would, however, recommend that you get some of that bad-tasting stuff that people use to stop biting their nails for this purpose if you decide to try this approach.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:57 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: (Sorry, they've rearranged... Fidget toys are here under the category Stress Relievers.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:59 PM on March 17, 2010

My husband is a compulsive fiddler, and it mostly doesn't bother me except when he fiddles with something of mine that I'm afraid he'll break. We used to have a running argument about him clicking my good $20 tweezers open and shut ("You're ruining the alignment!" "You're out of your mind, clicking them open and shut [forty-hundred fucking times] surely isn't going to hurt them!" etc. etc. to the point of hostilities.)

Finally I just learned to quit leaving my non-fiddleable shit in places where he hangs out. Here there are only two places stuff gets left where he would actually sit down and grab something absentmindedly, the computer desk and the coffee table. So depending on what-all I got bent out of shape over, I'd just keep an eye on those two spots and put away any no-no's that had been left lying there.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:58 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have nearly eradicated "like" and "you know" from my speech with the method that koeselitz outlined above. I had been interjecting those two phrases into every sentence that I uttered for the past few years, and really wanted to stop. I had been trying to stop just on my own, but since I was using these phrases unconsciously, just as fillers when I spoke, it was very difficult. I asked some of my close friends to make a non-verbal signal every time I said one of those phrases during the course of my speech - to tug on an ear, in fact.

Whenever I saw someone tug on their ear, I realized that I had just used the phrase again. This let me know now frequently I was engaging in the behavior to be eradicated. The ear tug, however, did not interrupt the flow of conversation or make me feel frustrated or make my (very kind and helpful) friends feel rude. Just this simple method of making me aware of the frequency, without other action has done wonders on cutting down the incidence of my saying "like" or "you know" unconsciously. Also, my relationship with my friends has survived intact.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 4:09 PM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: My boyfriend kindly bought me a Koosh. I don't have a need to gnaw, but they help me de-stress with something that is tactile and good to fiddle with. It's actually soothing! They also don't make any noise if they hit the ground, obviously.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2010

Hey, are you married to my husband too? I tell my to stop, that he is annoying me. This sometimes helps. I also put stuff away all the time, so it is not available to him. I got have bought him toys to fidget with, but the best thing for a nice quiet evening was giving him a laptop. He can sit with me and fidget with the laptop and not drive me nuts.
posted by fifilaru at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2010

this is a do-nothing; more accurately called the Trammel of Archimedes, sometimes known as a hillbilly entertainment center.
posted by scruss at 4:37 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The gyroscope thingies referenced above are noisy (I have one, it is MINE and I'm not sharing). If it was left in my boyfriend's vicinity for a long time he would probably just eat the string anyway.... I have no good answers either. Good luck.
posted by Lebannen at 4:42 PM on March 17, 2010

Just to chime in to echo what others have been saying -- I fidget ALL the time, and my clicking my watch open and shut used to drive my friend crazy, so she would give me her (soft-banded) watch to play with instead. She'd just pass it to me in the middle of conversation without comment, and it worked well.

Also, I recently bought myself a ring that fits on several of my fingers, so I've switched (mostly) to fiddling with that. It's mine, and it's quiet (unless I drop it, I guess, but maybe he could get a yarn bracelet or something?)
posted by cider at 6:23 PM on March 17, 2010

I'm a fidgeter too. I have quite a few toys on my desk, and I also like to twirl pens. (I bookmarked that Office Playground site - I want most of the things on there!) My current favorite thing is a piece of magnetic art - keeps me occupied and it is fairly quiet.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:45 PM on March 17, 2010

How about a rug near where he likes to sit? That should solve the clattering issue.

Things to play with? Gripmaster. Microbead pillow. Theraband. Powerball. Silly putty. And maybe a year's supply of gum if he really likes to chew things.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2010

I'm a fidgeter...

Most pharmacies sell infant teething rings that are good for chewing on, and designed for chewing on.
posted by Oceanesque at 2:30 AM on March 18, 2010

Sorry, not sure why that link didn't work, it should have been bit.ly/cPt88f
posted by Oceanesque at 2:38 AM on March 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the great answers. I've marked several standouts, and appreciate all the suggestions, both for "fidget toys" (who knew it was a category?), quiet things like Kooshes, and nonverbal cues or trading one item for another.

We have a burgeoning collection of office desk toy type stuff already, but I may spring for a gyroscope; his eyes lit up at the link when I showed it to him.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:41 AM on March 18, 2010

Chewing gum and a single egg of Silly Putty for his desk.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2010

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