Love Lies: 7 Tips for Relationship Clarity

To solve a problem, try naming it and then having the relationship talk.

Posted Jun 20, 2015

Courtesy of Thomas Kaufman for Cardes de Belville
Source: Courtesy of Thomas Kaufman for Cardes de Belville

Some years ago I remember a newspaper headline that read: “Permission to lie to yourself.”  And I asked, “But why?” Sometimes the truth is too painful.  But lying to ourselves is a roadblock to solutions. You can’t solve a problem until you name it.  In relationships that seem to be going awry, couples who acknowledge an issue can do something about it. Otherwise, they risk drifting away from each other -- oftentimes with anger.  Communication and honesty are vital. However, relationships are complicated and it can be daunting to hone in on the essence of a problem.  Even therapists point out the difficulty with communication and inaccurate assessments.   

Before reading how to solve the problem, consider these two thoughts – one from a fairy tale and the other from a text book on neuropsychiatry.  Without trivializing the issues in patient diagnosis—in both therapy and a fairy tale sometimes people simply communicate what they wish to see.

Recall the story of the emperor’s new clothes.  Riding around naked through the town on his prancing stallion, some villages stared at him with disbelief while others averted their eyes in embarrassment. Finally a voice in the crowd cried out, “Look at the emperor’s new clothes.  Aren’t they magnificent?” Soon everyone was cheering and tossing their caps into the air until one person had the courage to say, “But he has no clothes.”

In “Listening to the Patient’s Verbalizations and History: The Problem of Misdiagnosis,” Larry J. Seidman, Ph.D., makes a point that can also apply to miscommunication between couples. In relating case studies he acknowledges:  “A common thread running through these anecdotes is that the patients’ own distorted communications regarding their illness were not carefully evaluated for diagnostic clues.”

Whether talking to your love or to your therapist, sometimes we knowingly or unconsciously distort the real picture. Honesty is important to the person who is hurting and it is vital for the person whom they might seek out for help.  In essence, you cannot solve a problem until you identify the problem.  The point of both examples is that we see what we want to see. But lying to oneself in hopes of saving a relationship or keeping a relationship going that is in trouble, simply prolongs the relationship’s demise.  Here are steps you might take to solve a relationship crisis whether you are single or married.

Have that relationship talk now

If your relationship is in trouble, you know it. Your intuition tells you. Your body gives signals both physical and emotional. Take action.

  1. Plan on having a relationship talk.
  2. Set the stage and do not try ambush your love just before walking into a party, or before he turns on the television to watch a game.
  3. Instead of saying, “We need to talk,” just ask him first if he has given any thought to the relationship.  Chances are that he will say, "No."  So drop it.
  4. In a few weeks, say that you are a little concerned and could you please set aside a time she the he might hear you out.  Then be clear and direct: “I am wondering if you are content with the relationship or should the two of us be dating others?”  This may trigger just enough concern to start a dialogue.  If not continue with your thoughts.
  5. Say that you want to clarify whether or not you are going to be exclusive as a couple.
  6. Listen to his answers without reacting, but give him support without making faces that express alarm or anger.
  7. Be certain you are clear in your own mind what it is that you want from the relationship.
  8. Another approach is to follow the "5 Minute Priority Conversation," advocated by Laurie Puhn, J.D., a Harvard educated family lawyer and couples mediator. She advises that you put your cards on the table -- but in this case think of a sandwich.
  • Bottom slice is the positive - "I love you and I miss being close to you. Can we talk about it?"
  • Between the bread you place the problem - "Our sex life is not what it once was and I don't want to go on pretending that everything is fine. . . . 'How do you feel? '"
  • The top slice is to lay out solutions - "If both of us want things to be different, then I am sure we can change the situation together. I think we need to make the relationship our number one priority.  What do you think?"

Now is the time to discuss a solution.  Be prepared. This can be, “Yes, we will make it through.”  Or it could be the break-up talk.  And if you are not certain, before having the talk, have a look at 35 Ways to Tell if It's Over, and to Tell Your Partner.

When married couples have the talk

If you both have been struggling with your marriage for more than six months and issues have not resolved, it is probably too late for the talk but the right time for a marriage counselor.  Michele Weiner-Davis of DivorceBusting.com -- who has spoken with me for my newspaper columns -- believes that even after infidelity a marriage can be saved:  

"But it takes teamwork and commitment from spouses willing to work hard at getting their marriages back on track. Re-establishing trust and finding ways to manage overwhelming painful emotions are key to the healing process."

The risk of the talk

The biggest risk with having the talk is this -- you may lose.  If you find your man is on a different page, you may have to face facts and walk away.  While this may seem hurtful, it is better to walk away as friends than to go through the bitterness of unfulfilled, unspoken expectations that are yours, but not his. No matter what the outcome, be forgiving and walk away with dignity.

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson

References:

The Psychotherapist’s Guide to Neuropsychiatry, eds: J.M. Ellison, C.S. Weinstein, T Hodel-Malinofsky, American Psychiatric Press, 1994

Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, L.Puhn, Rodale Books, 2010, www.lauriepuhn.com