Is there something your partner is doing that you feel you MUST talk to him about?
Let’s say he’s leaving his wet towel to mold on the floor of the bathroom, and you’re sick and tired of looking at it day after day. You’ve tried ignoring the situation until the towel starts to smell (gross), you’ve tried asking him to remember to hang them up (he does it once, but with disdain and heavy sighs), and you’ve tried being nice and hanging the towel up FOR him.
But now, after seeing that crumpled up towel on the floor for the upteenth time, you’re just pissed.
You don’t have time for this, you think, as you’re trying to get ready for work.
Why won’t he hang up his towel?
Is he being passive-aggressive? Clueless? Or was he raised by slobs?
You’ve put up with this long enough, you tell yourself. It’s time.
It’s time to stop this nonsense.
It’s time to tell him EXACTLY how you feel about this.
It’s time he knows what a big jerk he is.
It’s time for “The Talk.”
You know enough about relationships to know that communication is important whenever there’s some type of conflict.
In this situation, you know the thing to do is to try to communicate your feelings to your mate about why this towel situation is so upsetting to you.
You think, “If I can just point out what he’s doing wrong, he’ll see the error of his ways and change his behavior. He simply must realize how aggravating it is for me to be picking up after him all the time!”
So you text him at work and ask if you can schedule a time later that evening to talk.
He responds without much enthusiasm, and you go about your day, looking forward to talking with him about it, so you can solve this problem once and for all.
That evening, however, he conveniently forgets that you were supposed to have The Talk.
When you remind him, he sighs heavily and presses his lips tightly together.
Maybe he rubs his eyes in that way that he does when he’s frustrated and fed up.
He’s defensive before you’ve even said a word! This just makes you more angry. Doesn’t he want to know what’s wrong? Isn’t he curious? Doesn’t he want to talk it through with you and make things better?
Actually, no, he’s not. Not in the way you think.
Let me back up here.
Your man wants you to be happy. He really does.
He doesn’t want you to be disappointed in him because his worst fear is disappointing you.
This may seem absurd to you, because in the moment where he appears so irritated you may interpret that to mean that he doesn’t care about you OR your feelings at all. In that moment where his body language is tensing up before you start to have The Talk, several things may pass through your mind:
Does he just want me to keep my mouth shut and never complain about anything?
Does he hate talking to me?
Does he wish I would just leave him alone to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants?
Am I supposed to just clean up after him all the time, is that what he wants?
Any of these thoughts—which are simply conjecture on your part—may lead you to raise your voice, get defensive in return, be snarky, or criticize him instead of calmly telling him what’s on your mind.
But in that moment he’s tensing up, here’s what he’s more likely to be thinking:
I’ve failed her again.
I can’t seem to make her happy.
What is it that I’ve done wrong this time?
Nothing I do is ever good enough.
I’m worthless as a partner.
And this disconnect in what you’re expecting and what he’s interpreting, leads both of you to bicker, get defensive and fight. Nothing gets solved. You both feel terrible but for different reasons.
Exactly the opposite of what you were hoping to achieve! It’s surprising to you, but not surprising to me. Why?
Because my 40+ year experience as a psychotherapist and family counselor, as well as my extensive research on the differences between men and women in relationships, has led me to conclude that...
And no, it’s not because you don’t know how to communicate effectively or because your partner is stubborn or unenlightened in some way.
It’s not because you’re not using “I feel…” statements or stating your boundaries.
Men respond negatively to The Talk in a very different way than women do. Women see it as an opportunity to connect. Men see it as an accusation that he’s failed you in some way.
You may feel better after venting your frustrations and trying to come up with solutions.
When your man hears a complaint—no matter what it is—he believes that he’s disappointed you and he feels ashamed. His shame is so overwhelming at times that he can’t see beyond it and acknowledge what YOU are feeling—tired, frustrated, angry.
He just thinks, “I’ve failed her.” He freezes up, gets defensive and shuts down.
The more he shuts down, the lonelier and more frustrated you feel.
The lonelier you feel, the more resentful you get.
The more resentful you are, the more you criticize and complain.
And the more he feels like a failure.
It’s a downward spiral toward an emotional disconnect and perhaps ultimately, divorce. Statistics show that 80% of couples cite “growing apart” as the reason they called it quits.
That’s “code” for I’m done being unhappy, I don’t love you anymore, and I’d rather make a life without you, thank you very much.
It’s tragic, and it doesn’t have to happen.
And to think it may have all started with, “Honey, we need to talk.”
Before I answer this, I’m going to offer a radical idea for you to ponder:
Take the wet towel example. You picking up after your partner is simply a symptom of a much bigger issue in your relationship.
The bigger issue in this case is a fundamental unfairness in your relationship. He’s failing to do something and you’re doing it for him—or being forced to put up with something unpleasant day after day.
But the wet towel is likely just the tip of the iceberg, and that’s why it has become this huge issue all of a sudden.
What you’re not really seeing is that there may be other symptoms of the unfairness of your relationship that you’re NOT YET seeing or addressing. You may not have an equitable relationship in other areas: child care, career, money, sex.
Therefore, if you fail to see the big picture, you’ll constantly be bickering about the small annoyances.
To sum this all up:
Addressing the bigger issue of relationship fairness takes connecting in a way that helps you and your partner understand the implications of your choices BEFORE you make them.
It takes self-reflection, a willingness to become better partners for each other, and making certain positive changes in your habits and behavior.
I know, it may seem like a tall order, and one that’s impossible to do without a great deal of talking, but I assure you, you CAN fix your underlying relationship issues without going down the same, tired road of talking, complaining, blaming and compromising.
You CAN resolve your underlying or long-standing issues, without having to “talk about it” all the time.
When you can identify what’s really at the core of your relationship conflict, you can take the necessary steps to fix it. That way, communication becomes more for connecting instead of for complaining.
Your partner feels better and so do you—because he knows he can make you happy and you feel heard and understood.
In other words, once you know the underlying cause of your dissatisfaction, you can go about making the changes in your relationship that will actually make a difference—without needing to always have The Talk.
When I work with couples to help them see what’s really behind their fighting, boredom, conflicts, and disconnect, they have a huge “AHA.”
They finally “get” what’s missing, and exactly what they need to do to get their love back on track. And it’s usually the OPPOSITE of talking about it.
But I can’t possibly work individually with everyone who needs that kind of help. That’s why I’ve partnered with Flourish, so I can extend that help and guidance to as many people as possible, since almost all couples can benefit from these insights and tips.
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A relationship doesn’t need to lose passion and connection, just because you’ve been together for a long time. Just the opposite! It should get sweeter and more loving with time.
Marriage CAN be enlivening and wonderful, if you have the right knowledge and tools.
The advice contained in the articles I’ve written for Flourish will help you uncover the hidden issues that are draining your relationship of joy and passion, and help you create and maintain a strong foundation of love and respect, so that your relationship can last a lifetime.
May you have an extraordinary day,