Relationship Help: Why You Should Avoid Certain Relationship Issues

Effective Couples Communication Quick Tip

When trying to improve your marriage/relationship, one of the biggest challenges is to avoid the slippery slope of falling into a perpetual conversational abyss that leads nowhere. This doesn’t mean you should never attempt to understand past marital/relationship problems (since with mutual understanding comes greater empathy and emotional intimacy)—but the fact is that certain issues, those hot-button trouble spots that quickly result in intense anger and defensiveness, should probably be shelved (at least temporarily).

The truth is that you and your spouse/partner may never see eye-to-eye about certain issues (present or past relationship issues): You may each be totally convinced of what feels like an unquestionable truth without any wiggle room or willingness to consider the other person’s perspective.  This is a real challenge for couples, since one of our primary emotional needs is to feel understood and validated by those closest to us. And while less than ideal, this level of disparity does occur from time to time.

So rather than continuously banging your head up against a communication wall, it may be helpful to create a list of conversational topics to be avoided—a communication off-limits zone

What is an communication off-limits zone?

A communication off-limits zone is a list of marital/relationship issues and topics that have already occurred and you and your partner disagree on why this issue(s) occurred. For example, you may blame your partner for the lack of emotional and/or physical intimacy that exists in the relationship, while s/he is adamant that the emotional divide is the result of your pulling away and refusing to communicate. Such conversations quickly devolve into mutual blaming and/or withdrawal. 

So a communication off-limits zone for the above example might read something like:

“We agree not to discuss our beliefs about what set the current intimacy problems into motion. We have very different viewpoints on this issue, and attempts to explore it has only led to increased conflict, anger and hurt. So rather then focus on who did what to cause the problem, we agree to focus on present-day solutions: what we each will do for a brighter relationship future (rather than placing our emotional energies into focusing on what the other person has or has not done in the past).”

Such an agreement can head off any communication battles that lead to the toxic trio of blame, accusation, and condemnation.

It’s important to note that a communication off-limits zone shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not have those conversations that make you uncomfortable—some of the most important discussions couples have make us feel emotionally uneasy. Rather, the off-limits zone is for the conversations that you’ve both tried to have over and over again without any resolution or meaningful understanding of one another.

The communication off-limits zone is a way of quarantining a particular issue that has become a toxin to your marriage/relationship. These issues are often best explored with the help of a professional (e.g., a marriage or couples counselor) who can mediate and coach you in the communication process.

Let’s make effective communication a regular part of your marriage/relationship!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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