Navigating Difficult Conversations in Relationships
In this post, I talk about a difficult relationship which may be triggering to some. Please do not read if you think this may upset you. Take care and be good to yourself first.
I have never been good at talking about my feelings. Pretty counteractive for a blogger who writes so openly about her struggle with anxiety and depression and hormone-influenced changes in mood, right?
I had to put in the effort and do the work. I had to force myself out of my comfort zone to grow into a better communicator. I had to get comfortable with owning my truth. The thing that really pushed me to work on my communication skills was my relationship with Thomas.
Our courtship had a bit of a rocky start. Both of us had experienced painful, drawn out breakups that left us a little weary of the feelings we had for each other from our first date. I can’t and won’t speak for Thomas but I know that I had a lot of insecurities surrounding relationships. I was skittish and tested him constantly. To be honest, I was kind of a pain in the ass and I’m really lucky that he stuck it out because I put him through hell.
When I had met Thomas, I had been single for two years. My previous relationship left me broken in ways I didn’t know I could be broken. I let this man break me instead of being strong. I had been made to feel ashamed of my education. According to him, I hadn’t really worked for it. I had been made to feel ashamed of my home. According to him, I didn’t really earn it.
I had been to made to feel like I was overreacting when he came home so drunk he could hardly stand. He was just having fun and according to him, I was too uptight. According to him, I overreacted when he lost his job and stopped paying any of our shared bills. I had been handed a degree and a job and a place to live and I could afford to support him.
According to him, I was being selfish when I asked him to pay for rent instead of going out on yet another bender with his friends. I never really liked his friends anyways and I was being too controlling. I was made to feel like I forced him to act the way I did because of my own struggles with mental health. Because I struggled with anxiety, I made him stressed out and he needed to relax sometimes.
I was psychopath. A monster. I was crazy. I needed to be medicated. I needed therapy. I had anger and aggression problems. Me. Me. Me. I was always the problem. And I always believed it. Because why else would someone who supposedly love me tell me these things unless they were true?
Someone prayed on my every insecurity. Someone found the words that pricked me the deepest and used them against me constantly. Until I broke. Until I left my own home at 3 o’clock in the morning with nothing but my purse and my dog and fled to the comfort of my parents’ home an hour away - balling my eyes out and spilling my guts to my very confused and sleepy father (bless his soul for waking up at 4 am and listening to me and telling me it would be ok). I gave this man 12 hours to vacate my home before I called the police. And so it was finally over but the damage that had been done to my self-esteem and self-worth were wounds that wouldn’t heal quickly.
I continued to struggle talking about the hard stuff with others, friends or co-workers, because there is still a part of me that believes these bad, dark things - that I am the problem. The thought of making someone else uncomfortable or upset or inconvenienced makes me sick to my stomach. Because I had such a hard time believing that I deserve to be heard, or happy, or comfortable. I refused to believe that I deserved to feel safe.
The wall that I built around myself over the course of the two years between the end of that relationship and the beginning of my life with Thomas kept me well contained. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t ask for what I needed. Or talk about things that bothered me. I closed myself off and sabotaged every potential relationship.
In October of 2017, just a few months after Thomas and I started dating, we had a big fight. An earth shattering, relationship changing fight that stemmed from my uncontrollable anxiety surround the fact that I believed with my whole heart, body, and soul that I could not possibly be able to hold on to this relationship that filled with me so much joy. And I thought I had lost him. This confirmed my beliefs about myself. My ego stepped in and said “I told you so. I told you you weren’t worthy. I told you you were going to get hurt.” Because my ego wanted to protect me but my heart wanted to be with this beautiful man standing in front of me with his silly little mini poodle, Peaches. I loved him already and I did not want to let go.
So, I spilled my guts. I told him the dark and the ugly and the bad stuff. And we talked and talked and talked. We talked about how insecure it made me that his ex was in his extended friend circle still. And how I often felt like he wasn’t being completely with honest with me because he wasn’t open about his feelings. We talked about all the ways in which be both had failed to be our best selves because we were both scared of being hurt again. And we came to the conclusion that we need to communicate with each other in a more efficient and healthy way.
I acknowledged my flaws and faults. He acknowledged his. And we began again. We pledged for fight for what we had through thoughtful, honest communication.
Because sometimes having the hard conversations is self-care. When something is bothering us. When we need something from someone else. When we are unable to sit with something, however big or small. When we are holding on to something, we aren’t practicing self-care. And when we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others.
And through this new relationship, I learned…I learned that I was worthy of truthful, respectful communication. Even when the conversation is uncomfortable. Even when the conversation is difficult. I learned that I needed a different tactic in order to be a better partner. So, that’s what I did. I found a new way.
How do we approach these tricky discussions? The way we approach any other problem - with planning and practice.
Get yourself right with Universe: Take time to do the introspective work. Get out your oracle cards, journal, or do a guided meditation for healing. Understand your role in situation. Understand your own short comings and get ready to bare them with grace because all communication is two-side. Don’t go into the conversation in the heat of the moment. Step away and take the time to come back to Earth.
Practice makes perfect: Review the conversation with yourself, a therapist, your best friend, your sister. Or write it all down free form. Get your feelings out and sort through them. Going into the conversation off the cuff could lead to you saying something you don’t mean.
Don’t let it build up: Have the conversation before it explodes out of you like a verbal volcano. When something comes up, address it as soon as you can. If it comes up at a time that it would be inappropriate to address, remove yourself from the situation if need be.
Pick a good time: Don’t have the conversation as your rushing out the door to a friend’s birthday party or a family gathering. Don’t do it in public. Choose the time wisely but don’t let it linger. Give yourself time and space to have a meaningful conversation.
Use “I feel” statements: Saying “You never do the dishes” is going to put your partner on the defensive. Saying “I feel as if I do dishes more often and I would appreciate more help with that chore,” puts some of the onus on you. Because it really is about the two of you.
Take breaks: If the conversation gets too heated, press pause and take a break. Collect yourself. Repeat steps 1 and 2 if necessary. Come back when you’re feeling calm and refreshed. Forget the old adage “Never go to bed angry.” How about “Never go to bed having ended a disagreement for the sake of ending a disagreement instead of coming to a thoughtful resolution,”? BUT…..
Find a conclusion: It doesn’t have to the same day, week, or even month but if you don’t find a compromise or solution to the problem, it won’t magically disappear. It may come back bigger and badder. So, make sure you both feel like the chapter is closed.
Keep up your end of the bargain: If you fought about the dishes and you agreed to do the dishes every other day. Do the dishes every other day as agreed upon. If you can’t keep up your end for some reason, communicate it back and put in a timeline for completing your part. “Hey bud, I didn’t get to the dishes tonight because I’m totally exhausted but I’m going tackle them in the morning.” If you find the agreement isn’t working for you, it’s time to revisit and come up with a new strategy. If your partner isn’t keep up their end of the bargain, address it with kindness. “How can I help make this agreement work for both of us?”
Let by-gones be by-gones: In a fight about the dishes it is easy to bring up the time your partner failed to take the trash out to the curb last year because it adds weight to your argument. Don’t do it. Don’t give in to the temptation to rehash old hurts. You should have already found a conclusion to that issue and closed that chapter. It isn’t relevant to nor will it add value to conversation. You aren’t perfect either. Make like Elsa, and let it go. Can’t let the past go? Time to go back to step 1.
End with love: Whenever it is time to conclude the conversation, end with love. Even if the relationship can’t survive the issue. Even if it’s time to move on. End with love for yourself, for your partner, for the abundant Universe that fills your life with all kinds of beauty and wonder.