It would often go like this: John would ask me what was wrong repeatedly. I would deny that anything was affecting me for a few minutes until I said, “Okay, actually….” I remember being frustrated thinking, Why should I have to spell it out for him? He was probably just as frustrated thinking, Why can’t she just tell me so we can fix this?
Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship. But how you communicate in times of conflict affects EVERYTHING.
In the first few years of my relationship with John, if he did something to upset me, I would often shut down, try to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, or wait for John to admit that he was wrong and apologize. Sometimes it was because I was nervous to admit there was a problem. Other times, I realized I was being irrational but still couldn’t seem to get over whatever it was. Still other times, I was simply waiting to see if John was perceptive enough to realize I was upset.
So finally one time after we had resolved a conflict, John said to me, “Jess, next time can you just tell me right away if I do something that bothers you so that I can just fix it?”
Sounds logical enough, right? This can be challenging though. It requires you to sacrifice stubbornness and pride, to give up the idea that the other person should be perceptive and attuned enough to realize they did something that bothered you and come to you with an apology without any effort on your part.
I’ve learned, however, that conflict management is a two-way street. No one should never have to guess what is wrong. In fact, you can love your significant other better by telling them how you really feel in a respectful, but honest manner right away.
Now, of course, sometimes I need to process things before I talk them through with John, but even still, I give him the heads up. I say to him, “Hey, just so you’re in the loop, I’m struggling with this, but I want to think about it a little more before we talk about it tonight.”
Before I jump to blame John, I try to think if there are any outside factors that are contributing to my frustrations, and I tell him: “You know, I think I was even more annoyed by this because I was already extremely irritable from this situation that happened at work…” I’ve said to him several times: “This bothered me, but I recognize I’m being irrational, so please just be patient with me as I work to get over it.”
This kind of communication requires sacrifice, patience, humility, and—perhaps most importantly—a willingness to be honest with yourself about what really has you upset. But I have learned that communication is one of the things I value most about my relationship with John. It allows me to love John better, free of harbored tension or frustration, and it allows John to love me better, aware of where I am coming from. Open, honest communication allows John and I to meet each other exactly where we are and attend to each other in that place as each needs.
Flickr/ Kevin Cortopassi