We can probably agree that it’s best to stay out of other people’s relationship problems. But sometimes we might meddle without realizing it. Consider the seemingly innocuous question “Did you ask your wife?” Personally, I find that question irritating and insulting.
I recently had two experiences where I was triggered in this manner. I had invited some people to my home, and one person said, “Make sure you ask your wife. We want to make sure it’s OK with her.”
On a different occasion, my family had been invited to someone’s home. I accepted the invitation, and the host responded, “Run it by your wife and let me know.”
I believe neither person harbored any ill intention by expressing their concerns. However, I was triggered and wanted to say to each of them, “Please do not interject yourself into how my wife and I communicate and work with one another. We’ve got this.” Or, “Mind your mutha******* business.” I definitely did not say the latter.
I was triggered because the comment reflects what I consider to be an assumption about my relationship (i.e., that my wife and I have conversations of that nature with one another). And if that is our culture (and it might not be), they’re assuming I needed prompting or a reminder to communicate with my wife. It felt insulting.
In a different, albeit related, example, River and Jordan are five years married. Jordan enjoys company coming to the house frequently. River is amenable to having house guests but prefers selecting days when company comes and preparing the house so that it is “suitable” before guests arrive.
Because of River’s preference, River wants Jordan to ask in advance so River can weigh in on whether it’s a good time and if they have adequate time to prepare the house. While Jordan understands (and is often compliant and respectful of River’s desire), sometimes Jordan doesn’t give the requested notice.
To address this, River asked Kennedy, Jordan’s close friend and a frequent visitor, to let River know when Kennedy and Jordan have planned for Kennedy to come by the house. When making this request, River explained to Kennedy, “You-all’s decision may have an effect on me.”
River’s request of Kennedy is a potential problem because River is indirectly informing Kennedy that there is a breakdown in communication between River and Jordan. It’s as if River’s saying, “The information sharing between Jordan and me is not to my liking. So before you take Jordan’s word about your presence being welcome, consult with me.”
Since every decision one partner makes has a potential effect on the other (from crossing the street to having a party at our home), ideally both partners will have a direct or indirect sense of whether or not the other partner is in support of a specific action. However, the way parties within a relationship consult with one another is best left to the parties within that relationship.
The way parties work together and communicate does not need to be vetted by outsiders. Individuals in a relationship may talk to each other before making a decision. They may also give a proverbial blank check to one or both by agreeing something like “Any decision you make about money will have my full support.” Or they may not talk to or consult one another and agree that each is free to do their own thing. The dynamic between partners can be one of these or many others. It is not our place to get in the way of another couple’s communication. (Though it may be our place to get out of the way of it.)
Communication challenges come with the territory of being in a relationship and getting to know another as we encounter various phases that we individually and jointly deal with over the years and possibly decades together. When we have a communication challenge, it’s not necessary or healthy for our relationship to involve others, especially without the consent of our partner. And it’s not necessary or healthy for us to interject ourself into another couple’s relationship, as I described my friend doing to me.
Ideally, we resolve any communication issue inside our relationship. This does not, in any way, suggest that outside help may not be valuable to the health of our relationships. Relationship coaching is the point of this blog; providing value to my readers is my goal. However, if a person is reading this for support, they are not interacting directly with the author or directly involving a third party.
When we directly seek the assistance of a third party, it is important to get the support of our partner first. This means that our partner has bought in to a third party supporting our relationship. Without that mutual agreement, involving a third party can reasonably be considered a betrayal. To avoid this betrayal, let’s work with our partner one-on-one to resolve our issues without involving anyone else. If we require the support of someone else, let’s get it with our partner in full agreement.
And remember that when we bring someone else into our relationship, we also bring their issues and their agenda too. This often complicates matters. Work to keep things simple.
As we work to make sense of the challenges that so many of us face in our relationships, let’s keep in mind that we are also teaching people outside of our unit. We are teaching them how to treat us as individuals, how to treat our partner, and how to treat our unit.
Use these teachable moments (like being asked to check with your partner before confirming plans) to note that we will work together to make decisions and resolve any challenges we may encounter without the unsolicited help of outsiders. And if help is requested or needed, WE will ask for it. It is a way of protecting our union and our partner . . . and that’s loving.
Frank Love coaches individuals who are in (or wish to be in) a relationship on ways to be more loving. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.