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January 17, 2014
by Casey Truffo, LMFT

The Elephant in the Room

January 17, 2014 02:55 by Casey Truffo, LMFT

I'll Get To It Someday

Do you have a storage room, utility closet or other space in your home where the mess is so bad that when you need to store something else, you just close your eyes, toss it in and slam the door shut before you have time to think, “Gee, we should really do something about this one of these days”?

I remember a friend telling me about her utility-closet mess. It routinely drove her crazy; when a child needed his baseball glove or someone needed a certain screwdriver, more often than not she would go out and replace it rather than dig through that dreaded closet. All the while she felt guilty for not taking the time to clean it out—not to mention resentful of her husband for not doing it himself, or at least offering to help.

It’s all too human to avoid the messes in our lives, literally and figuratively, when they seem too overwhelming to confront. It’s also unhealthy.

Oftentimes these kinds of problems will impact your relationship as well. We sometimes call it the “elephant in the room”—too obvious to ignore, too daunting to address. Several examples come to mind. Maybe it’s a child who’s having behavior problems at school, or ongoing financial problems that you cannot get a handle on. It may even be an aging parent showing telltale signs of dementia.

These kinds of problems can put you on edge, causing stress and anxiety that can drive a wedge between you and your partner. Meanwhile, you are still not doing anything to fix the problem. It’s a lose-lose situation and the longer the “elephant” is allowed to keep its place in your “room”, the worse the stress AND the wedge will become.

Exposing The Elephant

When you find that something is nagging at you and causing stress, I always recommend finding a way to bring it out into the open. Bringing the situation into the spotlight can be difficult and stressful as well, though ultimately beneficial to all concerned. Here are a few tips for broaching tough subjects that have been swept under the rug, and why you’ll feel a lot better when you do.

  1. Make plans to talk about the problem. Sometimes just saying the words, “We need to talk,” can bring relief, because you’ve taken the first step toward bringing the situation out into the open. Find a time and a place when you’ll be able to discuss it with your partner privately and without interruption.
  2. If you need help gathering your thoughts — how you see the situation and what your biggest fears are—spend time writing them out ahead of time.
  3. When the time comes, just come out and say what is on your mind. This doesn’t mean you have to come prepared with a list of solutions – just broaching the subject is enough to start working towards a solution. After all, if you knew the answer, you’d probably have done something about it already. This may be a problem that can—and should—be dealt with as a couple. In many cases, you’ll find your partner shares your concerns and is relieved to have them out in the open.
  4. You’re a team - work together to explore possible steps that need to be taken. Maybe one of you has been a stay-at-home parent and needs to consider going back to work at least part-time to meet your family’s financial obligation. Maybe it’s time to discuss your concern about Dad’s dementia with a doctor and consider some type of nursing care.
  5. If you find yourself at odds as to what needs to be done—or if one partner dismisses the problem out of hand—seek the help of a professional, unbiased couples counselor who can facilitate the conversation and help you see if there are even deeper problems at work.

If there are issues that have been avoided and ignored, it means that they won’t be easy to deal with - again, if they were, you’d have discussed them long ago. But, if you think about it, avoiding them hasn’t been easy, either—and it can be deeply damaging to your stress level, your relationship and, of course, the unresolved situation itself. On the other hand, working on difficult issues together opens communication, can bring you closer and help you strengthen your problem-solving skills in the future…maybe before they grow into elephants in the first place.

If you are facing a difficult problem in your life and need help getting through it as a couple, please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.

About the Author

OC Relationship Center OC Relationship Center, LMFT

You deserve to feel better - in your life and relationships. At OC Relationship Center we want to help you find more love, more joy, more peace...and less conflict and less stress. Our licensed and caring counselors can help if you are single, dating, married, divorced.

OC Relationship Center can be found at
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