Relationship Help Quick Tip
Couples are continuously assessing the state of their marriage or relationship—even if we’re not fully aware that this is occurring.
The specifics of how we do this varies from couple to couple, but relationship assessment usually centers around a pattern of feelings we have that either indicate our relationship is working well or, inversely, that the relationship is off-kilter in some manner.
Statements like, “I feel so supported and cared for by you”; “When you do that it makes me feel like I matter to you”; or “You’ve been distant lately, I feel so alone”; “You never help pick up after yourself, it’s just so unfair!” are examples of how our emotions are used by us as a barometer about our marriage/relationship (or some aspect of our relationship).
Our feelings are a beacon—when listened to they direct our attention, guiding us to examine areas of our relationship and our lives; they inform us about what we need and what is working (they enrich experiences with vibrancy and meaning), and they also highlight where change may be needed.
When Considering Your Feelings…
When using your feelings (especially negative emotions) to assess whether your relationship is meeting your needs or not, it’s important to keep in mind the following:
1) Are these negative feelings a result of a pattern of behavior/interactions in your marriage/relationship that are troublesome to you? Can you objectively identify the pattern and explain why it doesn’t work for you?
2) Is it possible that dissatisfaction in some other area of your life is coloring your experience of the relationship? (For instance: feeling unhappy with yourself in some way, feeling isolated because of a lack of support/friends outside the relationship, a stalled career, family conflicts, unexpressed creative needs, etc.)
(For a more detailed exploration of this important issue, see my article: Marriage Help: Unhappily Married or Unhappy and Married?)
3) What is the likelihood that your feelings/reactions to your spouse/partner are being impacted by unresolved wounds or conditioned responses from your past?
4) Can your feelings possibly stem from an underlying psychiatric or medical condition that isn’t being addressed (depression, thyroid/hormonal imbalance)?
Don’t Make Your Attempted Solution the Problem
If you are confident that your feelings are an accurate reflection of a particular relationship issue that needs to be addressed (#1 above), the next step is to effectively communicate what you are needing from your spouse/partner. Spouses/partners need to periodically give each other feedback about what is working in the relationship, in addition to what isn’t working. In short, don’t just focus on the negative (too many couples fail to reinforce what is working in their relationship through expressions of appreciation and gratitude).
Frequently when we are troubled by something our partner is doing (or not doing), we end up communicating this important feedback in a way that triggers defensiveness in our partner rather than the openness we were hoping for. How you verbally package your message can make all the difference between a meaningful exchange and a frustrating breakdown in communication.
So when your feelings suggest that a discussion to address a particular issue is warranted, the feedback about what isn’t working needs to occur without attacking/criticalness, without sweeping over-generalizations (“you always….”; “you never…”) and without picking apart everything your partner does. Keep your feedback focused on the specific behavior you want changed and discuss why you want it changed (“When you do ‘X,’ I feel ‘Y’”).
And finally, don’t forget to name the positive impact this change will have on you (“If you help out more around the house, I know I’ll feel less angry and more willing to do things together”). This will give your partner an even greater incentive to follow through on your request.