“Communication is key.” - Everyone ever, in every book, movie, and real-life situation.
That piece of advice is constantly reiterated so why do we have such a hard time communicating about our problems? Why do we bottle things in rather than hash it out? Why do we hate confrontation so much that we would rather stay upset inside and play pretend that everything’s cool?
No one likes being uncomfortable. No one likes awkward situations. No one likes putting themselves in a position to be rejected or undermined. Instead, we try to ignore red flags by blaming ourselves, making excuses for our partner, and lying to ourselves and our partner. We like consistency and hate rocking the boat, but hey, communication is key, and lack of communication is the lock that you put on your heart. It's essential to discuss with your partner anything that doesn’t sit well with you, especially the red flags in your relationship.
Here are some ways you can address your concerns with your partner in an amicable way.
1. Avoid blame.
Examples: “Now we’re late because you’re taking too long to get ready." "The dishes are piling up because you should have done them yesterday." "It’s your fault I didn’t text you today, because you were supposed to call last night but never did."
Blaming is insinuating that someone is responsible for something bad happening. It is okay to state what someone did that bothered you, but blaming them is just a way of making sure you come off as innocent. There is a difference. No productive conversations start off with blame, however, lots of fights do.
Instead, show support, while still addressing the problem.
Example: "Is there anything I can do to help you get ready? We’re running late." "Hey babe, can you help me clean today? I’ll do x if you do the dishes?" "I thought we were gonna talk last night. What happened?"
Acknowledging the issue in the form of a question is a good way to show that you’re not okay, but you’re also not throwing blame. Do you see the difference? If their response doesn’t show any concern, make sure they know that you wouldn’t have brought it up if it wasn’t important to you so hopefully in the future they can, for example, get ready an hour earlier, wash dishes sooner, or apologize in the morning or better yet, stick to their word.
2. Avoid universal statements (i.e. always/never).
Example: "You always take too long to get ready." "You never do the dishes." "Every time you say you’ll call, you don’t."
Those are some fightin’ words! While your partner may have a habit of doing these things, saying words like "always" and "never" instantly puts them on the defense which soon becomes an offense, usually with another always/never statement about something off topic directed at you. We are prideful people and this really shows in relationships when we get defensive and protect ourselves by throwing blame back at them. So, not only will this kind of statement be hurtful, but also unproductive about the original issue.
Instead, suggest what you would have preferred.
Example: "I know I’m rushing you now, but would it help if I remind you to get ready an hour earlier next time?" "I know you hate doing the dishes, but when you wash them each time you use them, there’s not a big pile." "I know you just forgot to call me, but I don’t want this to become a habit. It’s important to me that you either remember or not get my hopes up in the first place."
When suggesting what you would have preferred, make sure it sounds like a suggestion, which means, don’t use the word “should." This comes off more like a demand or a judgment. Wouldn’t you hate to be told what you "should" have done as if you upset them on purpose for no reason? Example: “You should already know how much I hate being late." "You should have done the dishes yesterday." No one likes being told what to do, and no one likes when others make assumptions about their intentions.
3. Always use “I” statements.
Example: "I feel like my priorities aren’t being respected. Being punctual is important to me." "I feel like my priorities aren't being respected when the dishes pile up." "I feel marginalized when I have to wait for a call that never comes."
Rather than focusing on what someone did, acknowledge how it made you feel and your reaction to it. This will make your partner feel much more comfortable because you are not blaming them, but simply stating that something bothered you. There is a huge difference in the way people react when you don’t activate their defenses. The goal should always be to discuss how their actions affect your relationship, not making them feel bad, guilty, or anything else. Focus on how you feel and how they feel because we all love being seen and understood when something isn’t right.
Using “I” statements gets at what really matters. Whether or not they are punctual doesn’t mean anything. Whether or not their punctuality hurts, offends, or disrespects you means everything. It’s likely they already know that their punctuality is a problem, but they probably don’t know how it affects you, and therefore, hinders your relationship, and that is what's really important here. In a healthy relationship, you shouldn't ever feel afraid to talk about your feelings.
Bringing up something that bothers you is never easy but it is so incredibly important. Good communication, openness, and honesty about your feelings is the only way you can find happiness in a relationship. Your partner can’t fix something that’s broken if you hide it away.