When romantic partners encounter differences, they usually try to talk about it. Conventional wisdom tells us that this is an essential way to work things out. Unfortunately, talking about it often leads to arguments and hurt feelings.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, NOT talking about it can be a good idea.
That's right. A psychologist, who makes her living "talking about it," says, "Don't talk about it!" There is, of course, a world of difference between romantic partners talking about it and a psychologist and client talking about it. Only one is being paid for expertise by a presumablly willing, even eager, client.
The case for letting it ride
1) Getting the effect you're hoping for by talking about it requires an exceptional partner.
While we are infatuated, we believe that our partners are exceptional. We mistakenly believe that being in love inspires exceptional willingness to make accomodations. And, though we say we don't believe in fairytales, we believe that our love story will be exceptional.
Sooner or later, it becomes apparent that our love story is no fairytale, and we feel compelled to confront our partners and talk about it. Then, we learn that our partners are not at all exceptional in one very important way. They seem unwilling or unable to change to better suit us.
2) Spouses are not renovation projects.
As differences emerge and disenchantment sets in, partners air dissatisfactions, hoping for behavior change.
- I wish you would pick up after yourself.
- I wish you were more interested in sex.
- I wish you shared my interest in golf.
- I wish you saved more money.
When we air dissatisfactions and request behavior changes, we think we are being reasonable. We tell ourselves and our partners that we are simply giving feedback, offering constructive criticism, trying to improve the relationship. In fact, we are attempting to renovate our partners.
When we receive requests for behavior change, we recognize that our partners want to change us. We feel criticized, under-appreciated, attacked. We react defensively or counter attack.
Unhealthy habits of interaction take shape.
3) Although you cannot change your partner, you can change yourself.
To improve your relationship, practice these behaviors:
- Assume that your romantic partner is a well-intentioned adult who is appropriately interested in your welfare. If you cannot safely assume this, see previous posts: Great Mistakes: The Big Six Red Flags - Parts 1 & 2. Otherwise, don't be surprised when behaving like a parent - trying to tweak your spouse's behavior - elicits child-like behavior.
- Stop talking about your "issues." Live free of all those stupid arguments that invariably result from bringing up, for the umpteenth time, pet peeves, perceived mistreatment, and unresolved conflicts. Live free of histrionic bids for sympathy and understanding or attempts to extract long overdue apologies.
- Give up trying to change your partner. Imagine receiving the gift of love, free of disparaging comments or demands to justify behavior. Give that blessed gift to your partner.
- Improve yourself rather than your partner. Learn to manage expectations, insecurities, anxieties, and dark moods. Direct energy toward taking command of negative reactions and inhibiting impulses to blame your partner. See previous posts: The One and Only Marital Obligation, How to Train Your Dragon, Walking the Path Alone: Self-responsible Spouse.
- Connect with your partner on anything and everything except your "issues." When you talk, discuss shared interests and concerns, express positive reactions and emotions, and reinforce desired behaviors.