Communicating your feelings is rarely a good idea unless they are positive. Most negative conversations devolve into blaming, criticizing, defensiveness, and eventual stonewalling. Separation and divorce are around the corner if this pattern is repeated over time.
An interesting study by famed marriage therapist John Gottman discovered that couples who rarely, if ever, discuss issues had the same levels of marital happiness as couples who could talk through their problems and differences. While this may seem odd to some, given the poor track record of most relationship conversations, I’m not surprised.
But bottling up unresolved feelings is also unhealthy. So what are we to do when we feel out of sorts due to our partner’s behavior? Rather than bringing it up in the same old way, try these 10 steps instead:
Is it worth it?
Ask yourself: Is the issue at hand worth destroying the goodwill and positivity we are experiencing right now? Most of the time, the answer is “no.” Often, the trigger you are experiencing isn’t significant enough to destroy the love you’ve both worked hard to create.
Are your thoughts about your partner really true? Are you sure? Is he really an insensitive brute? Is she really self-centered and shallow? I’m confident that there are many examples of how your partner is giving, loving, and respectful. Breathe those in, and honor reality instead of your temporary feelings of pain.
Give it time.
As the healer of wounds, time will dissipate your frustration and concerns. The big, bad, boogeyman you have morphed your partner into will be replaced with the loving, connecting person they really are.
Recognize that your partner may be having a bad day, may have made a mistake, or just acted out in temporary frustration. You aren’t married to a monster, so don’t treat them as such. Soften your judgment, and your heart will follow.
Are you sure you did nothing to instigate the discord? Once brought up, your behavior will also be called into question. Pre-empt defensiveness by examining your role. When done correctly, you may be the one ending up apologizing first!
Communicate only feelings.
Stay away from judgment (right/wrong/good/bad). Instead, focus on feelings: “I love you and know you meant no harm. When ABC happened, I felt XYZ (sad, hurt, ignored, unloved). Can we both work on changing this pattern?”
Once you communicate, be prepared for your partner’s version of events, which may differ from yours. If you are not ready for that possibility, respect your partner and relationship by not bringing it up and moving on instead.
Avoid arguing till the bitter end.
Don’t continue fighting until you get agreement or an apology. Expressing your feelings of sadness, hurt, and pain (without judgment) is enough, even if your partner doesn’t admit fault or guilt. They heard you and will take it to heart.
After you bring up your point, work on letting go. This isn’t easy, but life is long and will be filled with ups and downs. Holding on to each and every mistake just keeps your head and heart embroiled in pain and misery, arresting your ability to enjoy your relationship. Constant bringing up the past poisons your present and ruins your future.
You love each other, and both want this to work. Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody, even if it happens at times. Don’t criminalize or pathologize each other, and your love and connection will remain on top where it belongs!