It usually starts with a vague feeling that something isn’t right, but we aren’t sure why we are unsettled, frustrated, irritable with our partner. A sense that we are becoming adversaries rather than friends, point-scoring rather than cooperating, sometimes solidifies into feelings of antagonism, hurt and frustration and leads to rows and accusations, both taking up defensive positions where the other is ‘wrong’. As we start to argue more, we put up a defensive wall, preparing our next reply – quite unable to listen to, or hear what our partner is saying.
This feeling seems to surface at two different times in our relationship – first, after we have been living together for a couple of years, the desire to fall into bed with each other at every possible opportunity has subsided a little, and we are getting to grips with the realities of living with a man or woman who is quite different from us. Our beloved’s ideas on virtually everything – cleanliness, tidiness, the need to be organised or not, bedtime, sport-watching, parenting, friends, and above all the importance of communicating within a relationship turn out to be entirely different from ours. What seemed charming and funny at first now irritates the hell out of us. How do we tell our other half, without endless arguments, that we are not feeling okay?
This growing sense of being at odds with our partner also frequently develops when there is a big change in our couple life – a baby is born, we get promoted or one of us starts working shifts, someone in the family is seriously ill, children leave home. Any major life event alters the balance in our relationship, affects our individual needs and means that if we aren’t talking and listening properly to each other, there will be tension and problems. When we are feeling under pressure, unsupported, or verbally attacked, we seem to shut down mentally. We blame our partner for not listening, not understanding, not helping, but the way in which we talk to them causes them to shut down too.
So here’s a few suggestions for restarting communication and getting you functioning as a couple again:
- The way in which we say things can change everything about our relationship.
- If we want to communicate that our needs as a person are no longer being met, it’s no good starting with ‘you are… you did, you were…..’
- It works better if we say ‘I have been feeling…I am feeling…..I need…..’
- If we shout or ask aggressively our partner can’t hear
- When we say what we need gently, calmly, repeatedly, there is a better chance they can listen
- ‘We need to….’ has a much higher chance of a positive response that ‘You need to’
- Getting what we need in a relationship is not about asking for less, it’s about developing the confidence to ask for more. But it’s how we ask that has the most to do with success or failure in getting our needs met.
All of the above is easier said than done. It takes time to change the way we ask for what we need, and it takes practice too. Sometimes we need professional support to begin with, and it’s better to seek it before that point-scoring becomes personal; once we start to wound each other it becomes very hard to listen and much more difficult to care………