By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Now, with the holidays upon us, and the stress of all that they bring, it’s important to remember that your partner is only human… as are you. So, while it’s a great idea to work on improving your relationship, it’s equally important to allow for imperfection. When a problem arises, there are times to address it; and there are times to let it go.
When to address problems:
Problems are a recurring and upsetting pattern: Even an anthill can grow, one grain at a time, into a mountain. So if your partner continues to do something that seems small, but is becoming increasingly disturbing or problematic, you need to address it. Of course, if it was upsetting to begin with, there’s no question that the two of you need to talk.
Big single-incident problems: Giving your partner some leeway and overlooking an occasional misstep is important in relationships – you will need the same courtesy at times, too. However, there are some transgressions that are too big to overlook or not give serious attention – even if they never happened before. Obvious examples are when a spouse has an affair or buys a new car without any discussion, particularly when you struggle with paying the bills.
When to let problems go:
Temporary party-pooper: You and your partner will both have good and bad days; uplifting and stressful days. So, if your partner is under stress and not much fun to be around, be there for her. Offer comfort, space (if she needs it), lighten the mood (if possible), or offer distractions. As for her grumpy or snapping comments, let them go. (However, I suggest this with the caveat not to accept emotional or physical abuse.)
Temporary cease-fire: Sometimes when things get tense, you and/or your partner might need a cease-fire; time to cool off. With a chance to regroup, one or both of you might apologize; or you might simply get yourselves back on track. No need to hold a grudge.
Relapses with genuine remorse: Your partner might be working on a problem, such as not nagging or being more emotionally available. If he relapses, but readily acknowledges this on his own or after a gentle reminder, pay attention. Offer appreciation for immediate attempts to rectify the situation; and then let it go. (For more serious problems, such as alcoholism, the same advice applies, though the decision of whether to let it go gets more complicated – requiring more evidence of progress being made and a more serious decision about whether you are beyond your limit.)
Long-term relationships are messy because life is challenging and we are all just doing the best we can to get through. So, continue to work on maintaining and even improving your communication, daily negotiations, fun together, romance, and enjoyable sex life. But remember to also be understanding, forgiving, and accepting. With the proper balance, even when problems arise, your relationship will continue on a positive course and bring you (at the very least) a tolerable today and many happier tomorrows.
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