It is important that we remember to not speak negatively about our partners. I am usually loath to tell someone not to do anything. Let’s flip that and get to what I am suggesting we do: learn the powerful skill of talking about challenges in our relationships without talking about our partners.
Our relationships are sacred. Or they are as sacred as we make them. Hopefully, we create a safe place where both can be flawed without being exposed to those outside of our union. Protecting this vulnerability strengthens the intimacy we experience. It is worth noting that exposure is not necessarily a bad thing. However, exposure is best negotiated between our flawed selves and our partners, not jettisoned into the community by our significant others when they feel like it.
So how do we, as flawed people, want to be treated? And as the partner to a flawed person, what should we do when we’re wrestling with relationship troubles?
Before deciding to talk to others about our partner’s troubling behavior, figure out what the pay-off will be. Why is it important to talk to others? Can I work to resolve the issue without talking to others? Does the issue require resolution, or can I simply accept it and move on? If there is a potential for resolution that doesn’t involve running our mouths to others, let’s do that work first.
If we must talk, try the following:
Talk to God, our ancestors, the universe, nature, etc. first. Prayer works. Speak about your problem to a higher power, if you believe in one. Consider asking for the wisdom, assistance, and patience needed for all involved parties to move past the current issue. The results may not happen overnight. Sustainable and positive changes take time.
Talk about relationships regularly, not just when problems arise. If we ask our best friend a question related to a relationship issue only when we’re having problems, they’ll connect the dots between our question and our relationship. And if we’re only in a relationship with one person, they’ll know exactly who we’re talking about.
Instead, talk about relationship issues often just to learn and share. Discuss articles or TV shows. Develop the healthy habit of talking generally about best practices and challenges you see around you. Your friend won’t be suspicious of your latest question if you’re already having an on-going conversation about relationships.
Ask nonspecific questions. If an issue is nipping at you that you can’t seem to casually slide in, switch genres. Above (No. 2), the suggestion was to discuss relationships regularly. However, if a relationship conversation is going to raise eyebrows, ask the question so that it’s related to a general setting.
If I am having a tough time communicating with my wife because she is cutting me off in discussions, I might ask a friend, “At work, how do you remain calm when you are speaking with someone, and they keep cutting you off after you have remained quiet when they were speaking?” Please note that I said nothing about my wife anywhere in my question. If asked, “Is this pertaining to your wife?,” I can say (and it would be true), “I am asking so that I have a better understanding of effective negotiating.”
Ask permission. If we must talk to others about our relationship woes, let’s ask our partner’s permission to speak to a specific person. In doing so we demonstrate that we care about what our partners have to say and what they think. We are also demonstrating care by proceeding with caution – not being haphazard or impulsive. Care goes a long way in relationships. And when we give care out, we often get it back. Give your relationship the benefit and the investment of care.
These are productive, constructive, and caring ways for us to address relationship challenges. Being mindful of intentions, actions, and results keeps us out of the destructive zone.
We will continue this conversation on talking about our partners next week. In the final installment, we will discuss what we can do on our own in lieu of discussing our partners.
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 Way to Be Loving.” To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.