AVOID OR PROGRESS? HARD CONVERSATIONS MADE EASY
So I assume everyone’s heard of the honeymoon period right? That period when you first get into a relationship and everything is amazing. You’re over the moon for your partner, you get butterflies in your stomach every time you see them, everything’s perfect and you just can’t seem to find anything to fault. That is, until you really get to know them. Then all your hopes and dreams seem go back to being just that, dreams.
Let’s face it, no matter how similar you may be, no two people think the same, so disagreements are inevitable. But this doesn’t mean that all your dreams can’t still be a reality. We just have to be realistic. Intimate relationships are just the same as any other relationship in our lives; there will always be things you like and dislike about your friends and family and you may not always get along and that’s totally normal. We’re humans, we are all different and we can’t always agree!
Unfortunately, a lot of people get to the end of the honeymoon period and bail when things get too hard. It might be because they’re just not that committed to the relationship or it could be because they freak out and feel threatened. Any time we feel threatened (e.g. “He/she doesn’t like me/care about me”) our fight or flight response is activated. So when conflict arises or it seems too hard to get to a resolution we have a tendency to flee the situation. This is normal, but it doesn’t have to be like this.
Those of us who choose to hang in there rather than fleeing the relationship completely, may instead tend to avoid disagreements rather than working through our differences. Let’s face it confrontation is uncomfortable, especially at the beginning stages of a relationship so it seems easier to just sweep it under the rug. But in reality, this can in fact cause all sorts of problems later down the track.
For example, say your partner always leaves their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor after their shower rather than putting them in wash basket. You find this annoying; it makes the bathroom messy and the wash basket is literally a metre away from the shower. It seems trivial so you decide not to say anything, until one day you get up in the middle of the night busting to go to the toilet so you burst into the bathroom without turning the light on and as you walk through you slip on your partner’s clothes and land face flat on the bathroom floor. At this point you have so much built up frustration that you decide to wake your partner up, yelling at him about how much of a slob he is and blaming him for the fall and subsequent bruising. In your explosion, now that your emotions have intensified, you might even bring up other unresolved issues like how your partner never washes the dishes or take the garbage out and what began as a minor issue has now escalated into a full-blown argument.
So whether you avoid confrontation due to the awkwardness, worry about saying the wrong thing or fear coming across as aggressive or needy, being able to communicate your thoughts and feelings is always key to a healthy relationship. A lot of the time it’s just the fear or the unknown that scares us, “but what if he/she doesn’t take it the right way?”, “what if he/she thinks of me differently afterwards” and most commonly, “what if it turns into a full blown argument!”
Having these hard conversations takes effort, and communicating effectively is a skill. There are actually a few common communication errors that many of us make that can lead to unnecessary arguments, bitterness and name calling. One common example is when we blame the other person for the way that wefeel. For example, rather than saying “you don’t even care about me, you barely ever fit in time for me” we could say, “I feel like you don’t care about me because I think that we’ve been spending a lot less time together lately”. This simple reframing of words can make a world of a difference!
Being able to work through our ‘incompatibility’ (disagreements) really is the difference between a happy couple and an unhappy couple. Conflict should never be seen as a threat to the relationship, it should instead be seen as an opportunity, and a sign of growth in a relationship, where both of you can leave feeling even greater understanding and love for one other.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps to effective and mindful communication that can help you avoid these common errors, and make these difficult conversations a whole lot easier. If you want to learn more on the practical side of things, head down to our “How to have those hard conversations” workshop with our provisional psychologist Michelle on Monday 19th September.