Monday, July 7, 2008

Speak Up - Don't Bite Your Tongue

Dating & Relationship Advice:

Are You Speaking Up Or Biting Your Tongue?

Don’t expect your partner to be a “mind-reader” in order to understand your thoughts.

Some people have selling skills. Others are analytical. Some are intuitive and emotional, others discern and use logic well. We are all different. And, with these differences, many of them might augment and improve our relationship by making us stronger together than we are apart. However, some of our differences are bound to frustrate us, from time to time.

Despite your strengths that may or may not match in a relationship, you may find times where you and your partner simply don’t see eye to eye. Hey, it's human!

The key question in relationships is: “How will you deal with those moments when you are not feeling heard or experiencing frustrating thoughts?”

Do you sweep them under the rug? Do you hope your partner will read your mind and just magically change?

Think of this: doing nothing is rarely a solution. Doing nothing merely delays the inevitable. Would it be healthier to wait and be reactive, or to deal with this now, proactively?

AspireNow's philosophy in a nutshell: be proactive, not reactive.

Say something positive to your partner, then suggest the concern, and a way that both of you might help improve the situation. Don’t just come up with concerns, bring solutions, too: be proactive. But don’t let the issue sit and fester, please don’t expect your partner to be a mind-reader, and for Pete’s sake, don’t sweep it under the rug and pretend it will magically resolve without any effort from both of you.

You might think, “But, Scott, if I bring this up, won’t we get in an argument?” My answer: Possibly, yes, you might. But consider this:

“Married couples who report they never argue with each other are 35 percent more likely to divorce within four years than are couples who report regularly disagreeing.” (Vaughn 2001).

Considering this fact about relationships that make it vs. those that don't, I’d suggest that opening up and sharing, even with the risk of arguing, is healthier than biting your tongue and hoping for the best.

I remember my ex-wife had this expectation that we would never argue. “My Mom and Dad never argued in front of us kids when we were young, Scott. It isn't healthy to argue!” she would say. Of course, we only argued about once in four months, so I did not see that as a big problem. However, her attitude probably didn't help us stay together, in retrospect.

Of course, you want support. Sure, you want comfort. It would help resolve the trying situation, right? You want your partner to understand your concern, understand the difficulty you face, and understand how to make you feel better. How do you make sure your partner understands your concern?

Are you concerned about money? Are you concerned about sharing interests? Are you concerned about how you’re raising kids together? Are you concerned about how often you’re having sex or experiencing intimacy? In relationships we WILL discover many concerns that we OUGHT to share with each other. The question is, do we make the effort to communicate and share proactively with each other to bring potential future problems out and take positive steps to resolve them?

If we pretend that our partner will magically discover the our concern, but haven’t openly discussed it or aired the matter, then we are being DECEPTIVE with our partner. It simply isn't fair to expect a partner to be what we want or do what we want without expressing those desires.

Now, let me ask you: “What are the odds of long-term relationship success if you’re deceiving your partner?”

You’ll reduce the odds of your long-term success by being less than up-front about your concern.

When you need support, explain the situation clearly, with positive reinforcement of why you love them in front and in back of the concern.

At the same time, if your partner brings up a concern to you, what do you do to validate and hear your partners concerns?

Do you practice active listening?

Resolving a conflict is much like surgery. You have to first dress the wound area and clean it. You must acknowledge there is a wound. Then you must clean the wound and get it ready for surgery. Then you take a step towards fixing the injury by cutting out the offending item or repairing the problem. Next, you stitch up the wound, and bandage it with proper materials so that it doesn't get reinfected. Last, you schedule a follow-up visit to make sure the wound healed properly.

Healthy conflict resolution:

  1. Have you repeated back their concern and demonstrated that you heard them?
  2. Have you looked for the "dream inside" of the conflict? If you can find the dream inside, you can often shift your perspective to match theirs and give yourself a chance at resolving the conflict more quickly.
  3. Have you discussed, together, possible remedies and small steps you might take to resolve the problem? If you resolve your conflict using similar approaches, you're more likely to have success with the problem.
  4. Have you taken to address the root NEED that is identified by the concern brought up?
  5. Have you both agreed that the issue was heard, taken to heart, and if possible, put to rest?
  6. Have you given reassurance of your love together to close the wound and leave it healthy?
  7. Did you give yourself a "relationship check-up" and follow up two weeks later to make sure that the issue was resolved to satisfaction?

Follow this list and you'll resolve more conflicts, for sure.

I experienced what it feels like to discover that my partner had a concern but let months – even years – go by without airing these concerns to me. When you discover this after the fact, you’re left wondering “How much better could things have been had they simply communicated!” Communicate with your partner - you'll save pain down the road, for sure.

I also experienced how it feels to share a concern about how we might improve our relationship, only to have my partner continue with the behavior that made it difficult to be together and put a strain on our interactions. Or, even worse, I've had a partner take a concern, twist it back around to be about me, then leave me feeling attacked, raw and invalidated, when I was just trying to resolve something to make the relationship better. When you experience this sort of invalidation from your partner over a prolonged period of time, you’re bound to build up frustration. It might even lead to a break-up. So, before things get to a boiling point, if you hear your partner expressing a concern and it IS something you could resolve with some minor changes in behavior, why not validate their concern and take some action towards a positive experience together?

In studies of marriages of various lengths, couples with a high degree of intimacy between the husband and wife – that is, couples who shared their innermost thoughts – were 62 percent more likely to describe their marriage as happy (Pallen 2001).

The choice is yours whether to build a relationship on total honesty, respect, good communication, and love.

At the heart of true love is better communication and healthy conflict resolution. Are you missing the mark but want true love? Change how you communicate, improve how you resolve conflicts, and you’ll improve the love you feel.


Pallen, R. 2001. “Intimacy, Need Fulfillment, and Violence in Marital Relationships.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arkansas.

Vaughn, L. 2001. “The Relationship Between Marital Satisfaction Levels Associated with Participation in the Free and Hope-Focused Marital Enrichment Program,” Ph.D. dissertation, Regent University.


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