A few months ago, I received this email from someone who listens to my podcast and reads the blog. She ended up signing up for relationship coaching, and after a few months, I asked Stephanie if I could share bits of our conversations as a blog post to help others who are stuck in a relationship with poor communication. She agreed, and the result is today’s blog post.
If you could use some help in learning how to be more open and honest about your feelings inside your trusted relationships, today’s article is just for you. Thanks again, Steph.
I’ve been married to my husband, Michael for 15 years. Lately, I’ve noticed that when he says we’re going to do a particular activity that I’m not interested in, I just go along with him and say nothing. Even though I don’t enjoy the specific thing he’s chosen, I guess I just keep doing it to make him happy.
And there’s something else I’ve noticed—when we’re out with friends, Michael sometimes makes a cryptic comment about me. Once in a while, those comments really hurt my feelings! Yet, I show no response at the time. I never mention these situations later, but I can’t help but think about them.
I now find myself feeling less happy about our relationship than I used to. I don’t want to end our marriage or anything like that, but still, I wonder, are we doomed to a life of being just another married couple who seems not to enjoy each other that much?
Here was my initial response to Stephanie’s first email:
You have a right to feel disappointed about the changes in your relationship. It’s not unusual for married couples to experience transitions in their relationship over the years. However, the issues you bring up are situations that can be addressed and resolved, as long as both people want them to change.
I think the most critical aspect of these challenges you present is what appears to be your hesitance or refusal to discuss with Michael how you’re feeling. Our partners need and deserve to know how we are feeling, especially about on-going issues.
In the event one partner is doing something unintentionally hurtful to the other, the one being hurt has a responsibility to the relationship to bring up the topic for serious discussion.
The remainder of this article comes from bits and pieces of our coaching conversations throughout the past six months. I’m so grateful for Stephanie and Michael’s willingness to share what they’ve learned with other couples.
Q: But won’t it hurt his feelings or make him angry if I bring up a situation that caused me to feel upset?
A: Well, he probably won’t feel his best. But assuming that he loves you, he’s going to want to know about your feelings and about how his behaviors are affecting you.
Look at it this way: if you were inadvertently doing something that hurt Michael’s feelings on more than one occasion, wouldn’t you want to know about it so you could stop the behavior?
Q: I guess I see your point. I definitely would want to know if I was upsetting Michael so I could change what I was doing. Otherwise, I could be hurting him over and over again and not even know it!
A: So, step 1 in your relationship is to talk with your husband about how you’re feeling and about what has been bothering you. An essential part of your discussion will be stating to Michael what you want and need from him.
Q: Oh boy, the idea of doing that scares me to death! I’m afraid I’ll say it the wrong way or say something wrong that will make him mad.
A: Well, here’s the good news: you can learn some basic communication skills that will help you share your feelings in a non-threatening way. As you gain confidence in how you communicate, you won’t feel as much fear about talking to Michael about your feelings.
Q: How can I say my feelings in a non-hurtful way?
A: First, timing is everything. My suggestion is to wait to talk to Michael when you’re not terribly hurt and angry. It’s best to keep a cool head when you’re sharing your feelings.
Also, choose an appropriate time and place to converse. For example, just after dinner. Your talk should be private with only the two of you present. It’s important to be able to make eye contact, so sit at a table or in the living room together.
Q: Give me an example. How can I tell him I don’t enjoy going to play pool on Thursdays anymore?
A: Now you’re getting very specific, which is super helpful when you’re communicating feelings.
You could say something like, “You know babe, I’m learning something new about myself, and I’d like to share it with you. I’m really not enjoying going to play pool as much as I used to.”
Then, you have a few options: you can pause and wait for Michael to respond. If you prefer, you can go on to say, “I’d like to stop going to play pool on Thursdays.”
Also, you could make an alternate suggestion for the time spent together on Thursdays, like “Let’s try something different on Thursdays—how about going bowling or meeting some friends for dinner?”
The focus here is on stating your feelings, wants, and needs using a non-threatening tone of voice. And be clear. This way, Michael will be more receptive to you and respond to what you’re saying. You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating—start out with an “I” statement.
When you say, “I,” it shifts the responsibility for the conversation on to you, which is reasonable, given you’re the one who has something important to say. It’s best if a “feeling” word follows. So, “I’m concerned” or “I don’t enjoy” or “I’d like to” are great ways to start a sentence when you’re sharing feelings with a partner.
Q: Sounds simple enough. What if I start out this way and Michael still gets annoyed?
A: That’s an excellent question. Try to remember that Michael is entitled to feel however he feels, too. Listen to what he has to say. Refrain from taking his annoyance too personally.
When he’s finished talking, you could say something like, “It sounds like you’re annoyed right now” or “It seems you’re upset about something. How can we work this out, so we’re both happy?”
The critical part here is that you avoid getting upset. That’s because, once the both of you are upset, annoyed or angry, the chances of effective communication occurring decreases dramatically.
Allow your partner to have his own feelings. However, recognize that how he feels isn’t your fault. Each person is responsible for his own emotions. It’s absolutely vital that you not give up your own feelings because the other person wants you to. If you do, you’ll most likely be unhappy later.
Take a firm but non-threatening position about what you want to do. If you state what you want clearly and concisely, a loving partner will listen and understand.
Q: Okay, I think I’ve got it. I have a responsibility to my marriage to keep my husband informed about how I’m honestly feeling. Since I know he loves me, I’ve got hope now that I can get some of my troubling situations straightened out.
But what about the negative comments he makes about me when we’re out with friends?
A: The good news is that if you use the communication techniques we just discussed, they’ll work in almost any trusted relationship. I recommend that you wait until you get home, after the outing when Michael made a comment that bothered you. In the event either of you drank any alcohol, it’s best to bring up your issue in the morning.
Once you’re ready and feeling calm and confident, use your “I” statements and feeling words and be specific.
“Last night, when you said to Peter and Leslie that I never take a turn washing the car, it really bothered me. Will you please not say comments like that to our friends anymore? I am very interested in how you feel, though. So, if you want me to wash the car or do something, will you please come and talk to me directly about it?”
Hopefully, Michael will reveal to you what he truly meant by the comment. If he doesn’t, feel free to tell him you’re concerned by the comment and ask him, “Do you really feel that way?”
Make it clear that you’re interested in resolving the issue, if, in fact, it is an issue, with him. Emphasize that you care about his feelings and that if there’s something you’re not doing that frustrates him, you’re willing to discuss it.
Q: So, I should use the same communication tactics when my feelings are hurt about a comment Michael made, and I want to talk to him about what he said.
So, when I’m feeling like I don’t want to go along with Michael and do something he wants to do, or when I feel hurt about something he said, I’ve got to take steps right away to resolve each challenge as it happens. Right?
A: Nailed it! Allowing a lot of hurts and distress to build up isn’t good for a marriage – or any other relationship, for that matter. When that happens, one or both partners end up feeling not as happy about the relationship. All those hurts and distress can build a wall between you, resulting in boredom, hurt feelings, or an unhappy marriage.
Keep your relationship uncluttered from all those emotional issues by dealing with each situation, one by one, as soon as they occur. You’ll have a lifelong, joyous marriage when you work to communicate openly and honestly with your beloved partner.
- Looking for relationship coaching? I’d be honored to talk with you to see if I can be of service. If I’m not the right fit, I’ll gladly refer you to a counselor or therapist who might be better suited to address your needs. Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org today for more information.
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