Sometimes someone will get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services because s/he is worried about the future of the most significant relationship they have. They don’t want to lose their significant other, and yet they can feel something slipping away. Communication is breaking down, they feel they can’t say or do anything right, they really want some help in holding things together. What follows are some simple tips for avoiding common pitfalls when you try to talk things through.
Something almost guaranteed to undermine any discussion is the use of absolutes. If you find yourself saying to your partner “You always . . .” or “You never . . .” you are very likely to meet with justified resentment. There are two of you in the relationship. How can anything be 100% your partner’s fault? It is likely that you have both contributed to the problem. If you can, examine your own part in the recurring situation you are describing. Is it you yourself who always has the same reaction rather than your partner who always does the same thing to annoy you? It can be equally counter-productive to take all the blame and responsibility on yourself. Constant apologies are as wearing and irritating as constant accusations, and as unhelpful if real communication and progress is your aim. What is needed is for you to find some middle ground and a different way of expressing yourself: for example you could say something like: “Our relationship is really important to me and it bothers me that we are not getting on as well as we used to. I have noticed that whenever you do (or say) . . . my reaction is always . . . and it doesn’t help things. Can we talk about this?” This is not blaming anyone and it is taking responsibility for your own part in whatever is going wrong. It can open a door rather than closing one.
Another behaviour pattern related to using absolutes is a determination not to give an inch if you know that you are right and your partner is wrong. Instead of grimly sticking to proving your point, think about compromise, about relaxing your hold, about what is really important. Which matters more, proving who left the window open or continuing to communicate? If your partner feels shamed or humiliated or unheard, is s/he likely to want to be held in that place by your angry reminder? Will s/he even consider whether to stay with you any longer? Sometimes if you can give way about a small thing you will gain so much more than you lose.
Giving way about a small thing is not the same as allowing yourself to be the victim of abusive behaviour – neither emotional nor physical abuse is acceptable on either side if the relationship is to be a healthy one. If you feel that things are sliding in this direction don’t be afraid to seek help in dealing with the problem, perhaps by getting in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services.
There is another version of the giving way scenario: it might be that you are desperately trying to prove that you are in the right because usually your partner manages to convince both of you that s/he is correct and you are wrong. Again you need to ask yourself what is most important, and this is one situation where you might be in doubt. You might be starting to feel that this is the last straw. It could be very helpful to talk things through with someone else before you make an irrevocable decision – please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services, where there are qualified and experienced relationship counsellors.
End of Part One.
In Part Two we will look at how small problems in your relationship can grow into big ones and some tips to avoid this.