My boyfriend is a great guy in most ways, with one big exception: he’s constantly spitting. It’s always outside, so it’s not a sanitary issue per se, but I find it totally disgusting. I’ve told him how nasty I think it is, and urged him to stop whenever I see him doing it, but it doesn’t change. How can I get him to stop doing this?

-Hate His Habit

Does it help to learn that in some countries, like China, spitting in public is considered no more or less rude than a polite cough into the elbow?

Or does that just make you want to never, EVER travel to China?

Here’s the thing: everyone has habits that annoy, grate on, and even disgust their significant others. Being with someone long-term is as much about accepting (and ignoring) those things as it is about passionate love.

Of course there are shades of grey, here. There’s a difference between “I hate your ratty robe” and “I feel visceral, physical disgust every time you do X.”

But neither issue is going to be resolved by nagging (which I’m assuming your man feels you’re doing). It’s a natural–if infantile–reaction, when nagged, to dig your heels in. It’s also common for people to just stop listening, to try to “tune it out.” For all you know, your harping on his spitting is HIS primary issue, one he’s dealing with by trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.

So don’t nag in the moment. Sit him down inside (a blessedly expectoration-free zone) and tell him that you know it’s out of proportion, but that particular thing just makes your skin crawl, and you’d really appreciate it if he tried to break the habit. Then ask him how you can best help him to do so. Whether it’s noting the spitting verbally, pinching his arm every time he does it (aversion therapies are REAL, yo), or something else I haven’t considered (gum?), him being involved in the discussion, rather than a passive recipient of however you decide to express your anger, will help EVERYONE stay less annoyed.

If he can’t or won’t change the behavior, sit yourself down and ask another set of questions: is this a deal-breaker for you? Is his intransigence on the spitting indicative of a larger unwillingness to compromise, listen to your needs, or work to improve himself? And if so, can you imagine a long-term with that kind of person?