How to Talk about Issues

One of the MOST important things in any relationship is constant communication. If you ask couples why they break up or divorce, the most common reason is "we drifted apart". This means that the two people weren't paying attention to each other for so long that they were no longer a couple. This is EASILY preventable, if you talk to each other often and share your feelings, worries, hopes and dreams. If you see a small problem, you talk about it then and address it, instead of letting it snowball into a huge catastrophe. But all of this means you two have to talk.

While sometimes it can be the woman who avoids talking, many times it's the man. Many men have been raised to believe a man should be "strong and silent." He should just take the pain, ignore the problems and plow ahead. The problem with this theory is that by avoiding the pain and trouble, you don't FIX anything. So just like a pipe with a leak, it gets worse and worse until it explodes. You need to PATCH that pipe when you see there's a small problem, and deal with it. That's *far* more manly than just hiding and ignoring things. And if that involves talking about issues, that's what it involves. So show the man in your life that to really *be* a man, it's time to sit down and confront the issues, instead of hiding from them.

The first important thing to do is to prepare a comfortable environment where you both can discuss the issues and feel the most relaxed you can be. The talk will already be uncomfortable so try to balance that by doing it in a very relaxed way. Start with a delicious, filling dinner. If you enjoy wine, sip some wine together afterwards on a comfortable couch, start a fire if you have a fireplace. Turn off the phone. Make sure nobody else is going to come by. Give each other your FULL attention. Just this in itself can be a welcome relief from your normal daily rushing.

Now, start by reminding each other that you CARE for each other. That you both really want this relationship to work, and that together you CAN find a solution to anything life throws at you. You just need to stand together, to work together, to encourage that happiness and caring you have with and for each other. Make sure you emphasize that this is "you two together against the problems." It is NOT one of you against the other of you.

Now that you're in a comfortable place, and you have set the tone as you two finding a way to be happy, ask your partner to talk about something in the relationship that bothers him/her - big OR small - that together you can find a solution for. Even if it's something small, encourage your partner to start. And when your partner reveals something, don't jump in with "yeah but!!". Just LISTEN. You might be surprised how encouraging it will be for you to just LISTEN to your partner without judging or fighting back. Maybe part of your partner's fear of talking was due to the way in which his/her comments were received in the past.

When your partner is done, think about what was said. Then find a way to rephrase the complaint so that it is a *neutral* complaint. If your partner said "You always leave dirty dishes everywhere!", say, "You're unhappy with how we keep the house clean." If this issue seems to be part of a bigger issue, expand a bit. Say "So we seem to have a problem with who does what chores, and how those chores are done." That can include your partner's complaint, and perhaps some of your own.

Now you have a concrete issue, one that is a problem you can both address. That's always half the battle! It's no longer hiding behind snide comments or pointed barbs. It's just a problem that needs a solution. So now you start to brainstorm, "Let's make up a list of the chores that need to be done. I know that I'm better at some and you're better at others, and maybe we just have divided them up poorly before. I really don't care about dishes lying around, but you do. I do care about slime in the bathroom, but that doesn't bother you. So let's arrange things so we both take care of the areas we care the most about, because that will give us a feeling of satisfaction." You'll both feel encouraged that you're making progress - you can make a list of chores, each choose the ones that you really care about, and then divvy up the rest. You'll both make a commitment to doing your part to make the relationship work, and now that you've already talked about it, talking about it in the future will be much easier.

End with a positive attitude - not one of "Well, I guess we'll SEE if this works, but I know it won't." The only way a relationship survives is if two people work to MAKE it a success. So focus on making this task work. Make sure you hold up your end of the bargain, and encourage your partner when he's doing well on his end. If he's not, then have a talk in a few weeks to go over the progress on the issue. A relationship needs two fully involved people who BOTH are actively working on the relationship. If only one of you is making any effort, it's not going to work.

This technique should work for just about any issue you could face - being jealous about the friends your partner has, complaining about someone in the relationship spending more than his/her fair share, trying to get more romance or sex back into your lives. If you approach any of these as a "We have an issue that harms our happiness, but together we can find a solution," chances are you WILL find a solution!

How To ... in Love