If you leave a wet towel on the bathroom floor, it could be somewhat irritating to the next person who uses the bathroom after you, but would anyone start a major fight over it?

Most definitely, according to research funded by the US government's health research arm and conducted in the department of communications at Louisville University, Kentucky.

Trivial though it may seem, such a practice, if repeated, could be a ticking time bomb when it comes to relationships, warned the researchers.

Their report, "Social Allergies in Romantic Relationships" aimed to establish the nature of the link between nasty habits and nasty divorce. Among the "minor" irritants that they found could very quickly lead to irreparable rifts between couples are: failing to hang up towels, leaving a new loo roll on top of the empty one, using a fork as a backscratcher, and changing preset controls on the car stereo.

Perhaps a little bit more understandable are such habits as nose-picking, burping, failing to control flatulence, and getting drunk despite lack of obvious excuse. The list of niggles also includes laughing at one's own jokes (oblivious to the fact that no-one else is); using cringe-making terms of endearment such as "babykins' in public; reading e-mails in the middle of a discussion on an important topic; and asking for explanations of TV dramas, causing one's partner to miss a plot twist.

"Wet towels on the bathroom floor cause minor irritation, but the reaction gets stronger each time it happens," commented chief researcher Michael Cunningham. "Through repeated exposure it may produce a social allergy - a reaction of hypersensitive annoyance or disgust."

OK, so what's the solution? Assuming the couple aren't, after all, really interested in divorce, what can they do to avoid the perpetual bickering?

According to one relationship counselor, it's no rocket science: "We have so many couples saying to us they argue over everything and nothing. Communication is the key. If a minor habit causes bother, it should be no big deal to change it."

I'm not so sure. You can't restore a conflict-ridden marriage to perfect health by coercing your partner to do your will

Communication the key? Yes, if you want to bring about change without either of you losing your cool along the way, the ability to communicate effectively will be critical.

But very often, a polite and firm request to try to do something about an annoying habit will be met, at best, with a blank stare or a perfunctory nod. Why? Because you and your spouse, consciously or subconsciously, are engaged in a power struggle.

Typically, at the beginning of a healthy relationship, the love and appreciation each partner feels both for and from each other will make any idiosyncrasies the other has irrelevant. Until one trivial incident sets a motion in process from which, it appears, there's no return.

The power struggle begins. Then one, or more likely both, of the partners are overcome with a feeling of fear. Each one may feel that he or she has lost the way but is unable to find the way back.

"What happened?" he asks. "What made you change so suddenly?"

"What do you mean?" she replies. "I'm not the one who's changing. You are."

The truth is that you can't restore a conflict-ridden marriage to perfect health by coercing your partner to do your will. Focusing on what he or she is doing wrong is not the answer. You transform a relationship by creating love, collaboration and respect.

And the key word is create. It won't happen by itself. No way.

Take your shopping list of complaints, frustrations and resentments, and throw it in the garbage. Good riddance!

But wait, you do need a list of some sort, don't you? So sit down and write a list of things that you appreciate about your partner. List all your spouse's strengths and qualities. Then share your list with him or her.

Sure, it's easier said than done, especially when the anger and frustration is burning up inside you. The natural urge to seek immediate redress for perceived injustices may be an overpowering one, a fire that's seemingly impossible to put out.

But try. Believe me, it's worth it.

Author's Bio: 

Azriel is the creator of Hodu.com - Your Gateway to Better Communication Skills at http://hodu.com . This very popular website features only top quality articles, videos and tutorials to help improve your communication and relationship skills at home, in social life and inthe workplace. Visit Azriel's blog at http://hodu.com/blog