If the Sound of Your Partner Chewing Bothers You, You're Not Alone—Here's What Science Says

According to a new study, about one in five people have misophonia, a condition that causes a negative reaction to harmless everyday sounds like chewing and breathing.

It goes without saying that you admire your significant other, but as the person you likely spend most of your time with, there's bound to be a few things they do that set you on edge. If some of those annoying quirks include their everyday sounds, like chewing, yawning, or breathing, you're not alone. A recent study found that about one in five people have misophonia, which is a condition that causes a strong negative reaction to harmless everyday noises that are usually made by other people.

This condition often goes beyond simply being annoyed by a sound. "Misophonia can cause feelings of helplessness and being trapped when people can't get away from an unpleasant sound," Jane Gregory, senior author and clinical psychologist at the Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology said in a statement. "Often, those with misophonia feel bad about themselves for reacting the way they do, especially when they are responding to sounds made by loved ones."

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, used a questionnaire developed to capture the severity and complexity of misophonia. The survey was administered to 772 people representative of the United Kingdom's general population. Those surveyed were asked about common trigger sounds and their emotional response on a 10-point scale. They were also asked how those sounds affect their life and their relationships with other people.

Couple cutting into brunch food
Alexander Spatari / GETTY IMAGES

The researchers found that about 18 percent of the U.K.'s general population suffer from misophonia. Common sounds that elicit a negative emotional response amongst participants included loud chewing, slurping, snoring, and loud breathing. Sounds indicative of a higher level of misophonia included normal breathing, footsteps, and swallowing.

While it's not clear why these sounds are especially irksome when they're made by our significant others, there is a connection between the source of a sound and how it affects one's misophonic reaction. "It is likely due to memory processes within the brain and does not have to do with the relationship of the individual with misophonia and the other person," says Jennifer Jo Brout, a psychologist and director of the International Misophonia Research Network. "That is the important take-away. The trigger begins with aversion to the sound and is not a reflection of the relationship."

There is no treatment for misophonia currently, but there is a growing interest among academic researchers in finding a solution to the condition. "There is ongoing research, and coping skills to help people calm the body and reinterpret their emotions can be very helpful," says Dr. Brout. "Traditional exposure therapy has proved to be harmful and should be avoided."

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