Welcome back to “Telling Our Partner Your Problems 101.” Now that you’ve decided there is an issue that needs to be brought to the surface, the obstacle is opening discussion without attacking him or her with your dilemma velociraptor-style.
Initiating this conversation will doubtless be stressful for you, which will show in your body language and through any stuttering, stammering, profuse sweating, gasping, yelping, clinging to a favorite blanket, etc.
Again, make sure you’re focused on exactly what you want to achieve before you begin so that you’re not led off into arguing about other areas of the relationship. A major defense mechanism we use when confronted with something uncomfortable is to find a way to turn the blame around. A good way to remedy this is to divulge some of your own inadequacies so that the other person doesn’t feel bombarded with his or her own “flaws.” Maybe you’re not good at remembering to lock the door at night, which causes him anxiety. Mention this when you’re bringing up his inability to put the toilet seat down, and regard it in the same way you want him to treat your issue.
Further, avoid direct blaming by using the first person as much as possible and avoid the word “you” like the plague. Returning to the toilet seat example I used last week, instead of outright stating, “You always leave the toilet seat up, and you don’t listen to me when I tell you to put it down,” try, “I am frustrated that the toilet seat is rarely put down after use, and it makes me feel ignored.” This gives your partner the chance to take an active role instead of a defensive one. He/she now has the chance to make you feel appreciated and to take steps toward fixing the problem instead of having to think up ways to explain his inadequacy.
Once you have a tranquil mood set and have averted an explosive argument, aim to have your partner discuss his or her side of the story. You might learn something new that completely changes your view. In this case, maybe he really is germ phobic and putting the seat down horrifies him. Remember that the threat of emotion has not been completely avoided until the discussion is over.
Anne Hooper, author of “Sex Q&A,” recommends the “dripping faucet” technique to keep things on track. This requires you reforming and rewording your question so that you are asking the same unanswered question in a variety of ways. It is easy to brush off a question once and twice by redirecting an argument. If you are diligent about having an important question answered, this technique should eventually make him/her bite the bullet and give you a straight response.
For example, if she can’t seem to disclose why she is angry about you wanting to spend more time with your male friends, go at it from different angles. If “Do you feel threatened by my friends?” doesn’t get a reply, you could try, “Is there a specific occurrence between you and the guys that changed your view of them?” or “What about me going out with them is bothering you?” Don’t bow out if you don’t get an answer the first time. Bringing the topic up again later will only exasperate her further.
If in panic your partner refuses to communicate and this is not something that can be put off, say that. Odds are either he or she does not respect your opinion on it (i.e. thinks you are wrong), is deeply hurt by the conversation or needs time to let things sink in. Remind him or her that this is something key to the relationship, and there must be some sort of compromise upon which you both can agree. You have come to talk with the intent of reaching some sort of solution because you are concerned, not because you want to be malicious or accusatory. While giving someone time to digest the information is healthy, allowing him or her to completely ignore it and your needs is not.
Finally, if the discussion eventually does explode into a “Cops”-like screaming match, don’t be pulled into it. He or she will look rather silly screaming at you while you are answering calmly and rationally. Stay focused on your goal. Buckling at that point will make him or her jump to anger much more quickly in the future because it is a proven scare tactic.
There’s nothing comfortable about an uncomfortable situation. Don’t expect a walk in the park. But, if handled correctly, you can hopefully look forward to easy street in your future conflicts.
Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.