Today I wanted to share how we have been handling times of struggle with my wife. More than just handling, when we used these moments to strengthen our Relationship. Sometimes we fail to communicate properly and anxiety and stress are inviting themselves to our life. I believe that by sharing my own experience, I can help someone out there. Even if it is only one of my reader, I will be humbled with that.
The darkest moments of our relationships are something we all have. Somehow, we all share that and we talk little about it. We hide it, we pretend everything is okay. It is better to show the pictures of our amazing weekend and talk about how everything was great. It is harder to be open and vulnerable to our struggles and today I want to do exactly that, be open and vulnerable.
I will talk mainly about one practice we have developed with my wife and that is supporting us greatly. There is only one main takeaway today and a very simple one: Stay with your partner when it’s hard.
To explain what I mean, I want to share a real example. The dialogue below will be a typical conversation for us and I will comment on the way to help you understand what is happening and why.
As I understand my side of the story better, I will write from my point of view, while my wife shares something with me. We practice that both ways and roles are inverted regularly.
For today, I will take an example when my wife wants to share something with me and that could be a worry for one of us or our couple. Nothing immediately threatening but something that if we keep doing, might make us grow apart or might create a disconnection between us. As someone who worries about “what if” scenario, what she is sharing would be a fear of mine. Which can trigger a strong reaction and makes what she is sharing, bigger than it really is and I might blow it out of proportion.
In the dialogue, W will stand for my Wife and N for Nicolas (me). Let’s imagine that we were on the couch, chatting after one day at work.
W: “Sweetie, can I share something with you? It is bothering for a little while and I’d like to talk about it now”
N: “Of course, my Love, what is going on?”
W: “I feel like there isn’t much meaningful happening between us lately. As I don’t feel the connection, I’m isolating and upset at you regularly.”
Many of us might have reacted strongly to that sentence, it feels like a blow. It is easy to take it personally (“What did I do wrong again?”). My wife is honest, vulnerable and wants to exchange. That is all I want for our relationship. In such a moment, I decide to stay in the discussion, I try to make it safe and respectful so we have a chance to understand what is happening and make any correction if needed.
N: “Thank you for telling me.”
A few seconds later:
N: “Wanna talk more about that and what you are resenting?”
If she feels disconnected and isolating, she (very likely) has built resentment for a few hours/days/weeks. That is quite a normal behaviour we all do and I do too. It can be damaging to the relationship so we need to shine some lights on it and I want her to share more, so I have a chance to understand as well. Also when we feel disconnected to our partner, we should look if we are in tune with ourselves first. More often than not, we won’t be and that disconnection between “us” as little to do with our partner!
W: “You kept mentioning to me that you are always thinking about your work and your games lately and you seem to care less about me.”
W: “I’ve been telling stories to myself that you would be better without me as there is little space for me. If I wasn’t in your life, you could do more of what you really like and want”.
See what just happened? That is when a conversation turns crucial and why I kept writing about that topic lately. It is easy to feel the need to be defensive here, I could justify my behaviour: “There were so many changes at work, it’s normal if I think about it and I just wanted to be honest with you. I also have new content for my games and I told you that I will play more for a while.”
Such a response would bring the conversation into a mutual unwanted territory. It would turn it into an argumentative fight. One thing to remember is that when someone gives us the honour to be open and vulnerable, we shouldn’t be hard on them and instead, take that opportunity to connect. What my wife is going through in that example, has little to do with me. The underlying issue is that she had unmet needs that she didn’t communicate to me. It isn’t my responsibility to guess these needs. Expressing her needs is part of what falls on her shoulders. I also understand her and where she is coming from. After all, I do not always share my needs in time and I do build resentment at times. I care about her deeply and while I want her to be responsible for her needs, I won’t push her away nor blame her. Acceptance is a key word here.
N: “I understand my Love. It is true that I wasn’t always present on occasions even when we were together.”
N: “A lot of mind space was taken by these events so it wasn’t easy to be in tune with myself and be present for us in the moments we had”.
Just a quick note here, I am someone intellectualising a lot and I will escape in my mind, keep it busy at most times. So the enemy of living in the present moment. My wife practising mindfulness, she is sensitive to my “disconnections” (busy mind) and it is hurtful for her to witness them. I’d like to look at it this: it is perfect for me, it is an opportunity to grow my mindfulness!
W: “Yes, you weren’t. I don’t feel connected to you lately and that is hurtful, I feel isolated and lonely in these moments when you are my husband and I love you, I want to feel close to you”.
While the conversation is evolving, I stay in it. It’s an intention I set earlier, I care about my wife’s feelings and about us. The last thing I want is miscommunication and more resentment built if we handle it poorly. I try to remind myself that it is her own issues and that I could have had an impact on the situation, but it is not my fault when her unexpressed needs are unmet as I had no chance to meet them. At that point in time, I will do my best to be assertive and kind. I’m not good yet at being both at once, I tend to be assertive or kind but I keep learning and practising. That’s how it could look:
N: “That’s okay, we need to accept how you feel. I have been busy and I made some choices to invest time in my work and my hobby and I could have been better at communicating about that. I am sorry for that.”
N: “It isn’t fair to expect me to meet needs that you aren’t sharing with me. When I focus on other aspects of my life, it is even more important that we keep communicating our needs otherwise they won’t be prioritised. I need to do that too.”
I accept the situation, I admit I made some mistakes and apologise for it. Then I am assertive and set boundaries. It was missing the “being kind” part mentioned earlier and it is crucial so my partner can feel accepted and loved:
N: “I love you. Even when I am busy or when you feel lonely. I am happy to share my life with you and I am grateful you shared how you feel tonight”.
W: “I should have done a better job at telling my needs, I just realised why I was building resentment and before it was blurry. Thank you, my Love, for being there.”
N: “Tell me what you missed and let see if we can meet these needs now.”
To leave it reasonably short and digestible, I will leave it there. I would like you to imagine how could this situation turned out to be with your own experiences and skill sets and see if you can learn from my experience and teach me something in the comments!
I hope this example could help see the value in staying in dialogue with your partner. Even when it looks like an attack, it is possible to go for an outcome that is positive and bonding. Sometimes, one partner will come harder at you and if they are physically abusive or something you cannot handle, it is okay to respectfully be assertive and leave the room or even the relationship. I am not suggesting to always stay no matter what. I suggest that more often than not, we go out of dialogue with our loved ones. When with some skills and a bit of practice, we could have stayed in it. We could have strengthened our relationship instead of damaging it.
It is a simple principle but many of us do not do that. Or not consistently. It would have been easy to go for an argument, especially since we might have had such a discussion 3 or 10 times in the past. Or let’s imagine that you are in a similar situation, but you had a long day at work, a headache or you were also building resentment. It could turn quickly in a blame game and create an open wound, another one to your already wounded relationship.
Keep the peace, the safety and the love.
If you like this article, I would suggest reading the 2 last ones are they are on a similar topic: Crucial Conversations.
- 3 KEYS to Restore Peace in YOUR Relationship Through Conversation
- You’re a Slave or You’re a Master: Your Stories will Decide