Keep it to yourself?
There are a multitude of reasons why people remain silent, even when something in a relationship is really bothering them. Maybe you dislike conflict. You think you score points by always saying the right thing. Or maybe you have a tendency to downplay your own concerns, because living with them is easier than risking offending your partner or even making them angry and causing tension between the two of you.
Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dried formula for when to speak up and when to let something slide. After all, we do have to pick our battles, and if you find yourself criticizing every little thing your partner does, eventually he or she might just start to tune you out. However, there are plenty of people on the other end of the spectrum who err too often on the side of repressing their concerns, irritants or grievances, leaving them resentful that their partner won’t fix the problem even when he or she does not know it exists.
How often have you read one of those he said/she said marriage columns in a magazine and noticed that after one partner lists a litany of things that are bothering them, the other partner comes back with, “I had no idea he/she felt that way!” So how do you know when to let things slide and when to speak up?
Is it a recurring issue?
Recurring problems should always be addressed, one way or the other, if you want to keep your relationship in good health. If something your partner does on a regular basis bothers you—even if it’s something as simple as never putting their dirty clothes in the hamper—you have to make a decision: either resign yourself to it and let it go, or speak up. Not speaking up while their behavior continues to drive you nuts is not an option.
The benefit of telling your spouse or partner that it peeves you to see their dirty clothes lying around all over the place is threefold:
- You’re giving your partner the chance to make your life a tad easier just by doing something that probably takes less than two minutes a day
- You’ve learned that being assertive is different from being aggressive, and…
- The bedroom will look a lot tidier—which, as an aside, can make everyone breathe a little easier at the end of the day.
Maybe it’s all about perspective
If something your spouse or partner does annoys you primarily because you would do it differently, this might be a sign that it’s time to let this one go. Maybe they are happy to help the kids with homework after dinner, but you would prefer they do it before. If you can think of a legitimate reason why one time is better than another, go ahead and voice your concern. However, if you do a gut check and realize it really does not make much of a difference, focus instead on appreciating the fact that your wife knows how to help to help with calculus, a subject you happily left behind 15 years ago.
If the issue is more complicated and emotional, you might want to take a more sensitive approach and start with questions rather than complaints or accusations. Something you’ve built up in your head as a major concern might turn out to be based on a misunderstanding. On the other hand, it might turn out that your partner has been concerned about the same thing, but you were both hesitant to bring it up. Maybe you’re concerned about the family finances—it seems like there’s always more going out than coming in, and you’ve started fixating on what you perceive as your partner’s reckless spending habits. If you broach the subject neutrally—“I’ve been worried that we’re not saving enough lately. Can we take a look at our budget together to see how we might improve it?”—then you might gain a better understanding of what your partner really is spending money on (which might not be as frivolous as you thought) as well as ways that your own spending might sometimes be wasteful. If you work together, you’ll probably both find a lot of ways to cut back—a win-win for everybody and a conversation always worth having.
If you and your partner are having problems communicating effectively, please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the Relationship Center of Orange County are here to help you.