“With communication, you bond; without it, you separate.” Karen Solt
Having relationship problems? Having trouble honestly discussing them with your partner? That would not be unusual. Here’s the deal: if you don’t feel safe and valued in your relationship, you can’t communicate your true feelings; so, you don’t have an honest relationship…yet.
This dishonest, non-communicative relationship is probably taking a toll on you.
Let’s look at this together.
How are you currently communicating about your problems? Are you being confrontational or passive? …faking it and pretending that everything is fine?…avoiding it and talking about your job, the news, weather, your children, and anything else you can think of? …just hoping that it will “blow over?” …just go away?
In my opinion, there is only one way to “fix” whatever the problem is…it’s to talk about it.
With healthy communication, you bond; without it, you separate.
Let’s say you’re noticing that your partner is angry, and you ask him/her, “What’s wrong, babe?” Response: “Nothing!!!” You’re thinking, “Oh man, that sure doesn’t seem like ‘nothing!!!’…”
Why does this happen? Because most of us learned at an early age, that either yelling at each other or avoiding arguments entirely, were two ways to survive conflict. We didn’t learn to stay present in conflict and to be vulnerable and to communicate our true feelings. We feared rejection. We feared being attacked. And we now fear conflict.
So, we avoid conflict at all costs.
We swallow our feelings, and drop them into our little handy reservoir of other swallowed feelings. Plop! And then you notice your partner is angry again, fuming!!. Now we’re back to, “What’s wrong, babe?” The reservoir has overflowed. “I’ll tell you what’s the matter! For the past 15 years I have done your laundry, your dishes, picked up your dry cleaning, raised your kids, been an attentive lover, and everything else around this house! You have done nothing! You have never been here for me! I want a divorce!” And you’re standing there, with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look.
I mean you knew she wasn’t happy, but holy-cow, you had no idea….
Why is it that you had no idea that she would actually go this far?
You weren’t talking (welcome pink elephant, thanks for joining us 🙂). You thought that it was better to just play nice, to avoid conflict, and to pretend that everything was okay. Right?
Unfortunately, everything wasn’t okay. Actually, you knew that all along. Now you’ve gone from two people who used to absolutely adore each other, to two people watching TV without talking much, to now…two people threatening divorce.
What’s my point?
It’s that you must talk about the tough stuff.
If you’re not happy, you must engage in some self-awareness to determine what’s wrong. Where have you betrayed yourself? What is your real unhappiness? After that, it’s your responsibility to communicate your unhappiness, how it began, and look for some possible solutions.
Start here: Find a quiet place, and do some writing about what you’re really upset about. Be honest with yourself. You have a story that you’re telling yourself and others, but what’s the underlying story? If you’re angry, you’re probably either afraid or ashamed of something. What is it? When you start yelling at your partner, are you really looking for attention and connection? That they jump into the battle with you and show you they care? Figure out what you’re needing from them.
Next step: Ask for what you need and be as clear as you can.
What if, instead of yelling, you said,
“I’m really struggling right now and a part of me wants to blame it on you. I’m happy that you have that job that is creating more income and more freedom for us. But I’ve lost my independence…I feel lost and isolated and sometimes I feel like I’m losing you. I’m scared. Can we talk about some solutions that will be okay for both of us?”
I know…you think I’m crazy because that’s hard to do, but you have to understand that people aren’t mind readers. They have an idea, but they don’t 100% know what’s wrong. You might not even 100% know what’s wrong. Give yourself a chance to sit and sort it out.
Let’s wrap this up with some communication do’s and don’ts:
- Do invite someone to have a conversation. Don’t demand.
- Do be vulnerable. Don’t be closed-minded.
- Do take ownership of your part of the problem. Don’t blame.
- Do be honest and look for the real story. Don’t get stuck in your surface story.
- Do listen. Don’t make it all about you.
- Do look for solutions. Don’t believe there’s no hope.
It takes courage to have vulnerable conversations and to ask for your needs.
Being clear about what you’re really feeling, without shutting down, becoming defensive, or emotionally aggressive takes awareness. It takes vulnerability. It takes practice.
It means feeling your feelings, while in the midst of uncomfortable conversations. But, it’s worth it. If you want honest and open relationships, they take work, and they will take honest and open communication. What do you have to lose? More silence? More resentment? More lack of connection? These just might be good things to lose.