By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
People often talk (and think) about what’s upsetting them in their relationship. They are overflowing with examples of all the things their partners aren’t doing, but should be; and all the things their partners are doing, but shouldn’t be. And while discussing problems in your relationship is important, there are ways to do it and ways not to do it.
When people feel attacked, they defend. It’s only natural. They might do this by blocking the attack (e.g. You don’t know what you’re talking about) or by leaving physically or emotionally. So, if there are difficult things you need to tell your partner, then you must send the message in a way they can hear it. Consider approaching it like this:
Begin with what you appreciate about your partner. This isn’t about lifting them up before you knock them down. Truly think about what you love in your partner and your relationship. By doing this and then communicating it to your partner, the two of you will feel like you have a more solid foundation. This will help you to keep your complaint in perspective and be more caring in your delivery; and it will help them to listen less defensively.
State what you want, not just what you don’t want. For example, telling your partner to stop complaining does not tell them what you want them to do. Are you telling them to always keep their struggles to themselves or are you saying this is not a good time for you to talk? It’s much more helpful to say something like “I know you’re having a hard time, but I’m so tired that I can’t think straight now. Can we talk about this later, after I’ve rested, so that I can really be there for you?”
Be specific. Saying what you want works best when you are specific. So, stating, “I want you to show me that you love me” is less likely to get you what you want than saying, “It would really help me feel more loved if you give me a hug and kiss every night when you come home.”
These guidelines are simple, but they are not easily employed – especially when you are upset. So, talk often. This way your emotions won’t back up and either leak out in indirect ways or come exploding out, possibly causing damage than cannot be repaired. Also, when you talk before your emotions build and become more intense, you will be able to follow these guidelines more easily and keep your relationship on track.
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