Difficult conversations are essential to relationships. Many of us learn to avoid confrontation. While it can sometimes help, it often doesn’t prepare us for meeting the needs of our partners. Here’s how we find ourselves in this position, and how we can break free and develop the skills to make the most of our relationships.
Sometimes When Things Look Perfect on the Surface, Trouble Secretly Stirs Below
Sometimes couples come in for counseling and on the surface everything seems so great it’s hard to believe anything is wrong. They laugh at each other’s jokes and seem to get along well. They both appear to be on good behavior, and this comes across as the opposite to feeling and being unhappy. But even though it looks great on the outside, underneath this practiced way of presenting, I know everything is not alright.
Many couples fall into this pattern. They hold everything together when they are with other people, but behind closed doors they are different. That’s when they can’t pretend anymore. That’s when they are unable to hold up the nice view of themselves with their mate, and things just start to go haywire.
We’re Taught How to Get Along, But Not How to Have Difficult Conversations
So what causes this? It happens for many reasons, and it’s more common than you might think. If two people are always polite to each other, it probably means that they aren’t able to talk about what isn’t going right for them.
Yes, it is that simple. But in a relationship where you are close with another, everyone needs a way of making things right for themselves and being understood by the other, especially when they are having a problem.
Always showing a good face probably just means that’s what you learned growing up. Perhaps the home you lived in required it. Maybe you learned in school that, when you were pleasant and got along, people liked you. This is usually the case with people. We all like people who get along.
We Accumulate Hurt and Resentment When We Avoid Problems Instead of Resolving Them
But in a relationship, if you don’t have the skills to talk to your special person about something that happened to you, or about something your partner did, you will swallow these slights. And then, they will then get bigger and bigger and bigger.
You will carry these hurts around inside of you. You’ll then add on to them, instead of taking one at a time and helping your partner see what happened to you, asking them if they understand, and helping them not do it again.
Satisfying Relationships Take Effort and Communication
Talking about how things aren’t going well is a fundamental relationship skill. Having difficult conversations doesn’t mean you don’t love the person you are with. It’s just a way two vastly different people can build comfort and ease with each other, by way of little adjustments that make each of you happier.
But these things we probably aren’t taught to us when we’re little, nor during our teenage years, nor even when we’re adults. We’re taught to avoid confrontation, rather than resolve conflict. And so, most people just look for “the one.” And that’s usually all the work they feel they need, because if it feels that right, that should be enough.
Discussing Your Needs Will Help You and Your Partner
This is a wonderful fairytale. But reality is different. We get on each other’s nerves sometimes, because we have different hopes, dreams, desires, triggers, and worries. We may have a lot of similarities, but these traits are unique to each of us.
At some point in the relationship all of us are going to push or annoy our beloved. Sweeping problems under the rug is a recipe for feeling terrible. Learn how to speak your discomfort. I promise you, if it is done well, the person you speak it to will jump flips for you to make it better.
Need Help with Difficult Conversations in Your Relationship?
Read a Book About Relationships
If you’d like some help with tackling difficult conversations and conflict resolution in your relationship, try reading Linda’s book Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. It might just help you learn to communicate more softly, considerately, and bravely, so that you and your partner can better meet each other’s needs and make the most of your relationship. Give it a read.
Get Couples Counseling
Come in for couples counseling. Couples counseling can help you and your loved one get the most out of your relationship. It'll equip you with coping strategies and tools for communication that can help you argue less and love more.