You love your spouse, but your relationship is not the way you want it to be. How can you tell your spouse without making things worse? Some people are so afraid of upsetting their spouse that they suffer for years in silence. Ironically, sometimes both partners suffer in silence over the same problem, only to find out years later when the silence is finally broken. The time of longsuffering relationships is over and couples are realizing that without open discussion, their relationship will be dead in the water. All the same, communication is both a skill and an art.–one that many couples don’t have in proportion to their need.
“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” is a line from the movie Mary Poppins that holds good relationship advice for telling people what they may not want to hear. In the case of telling your husband or wife that you are unhappy with the relationship, you will need to be quick to add that you want the relationship to become better for the both of you. Something like this, “John/Jill, I’m not satisfied with our relationship, but I want to work on it and make it better.” Saying both of these things together helps to soften the blow, not scare our partner out of their wits, or create a defensive backlash.
What you must remember when you say this is that you prepared yourself before you said it. Your partner, on the other hand, is hearing this unprepared. His or her reaction is not going to be well thought out. Whatever your spouse says at this point, stay calm and don’t argue. Here are three common responses spouses have and how you can handle them.
1. If your spouse agrees with you that there are problems and that he or she has also been thinking about how to make the relationship better, then great! You have a relationship that is in the minority, but well on the way to becoming a great relationship. Together, you can explore the way you would like the relationship to be (rather than how the problems started) and make plans for getting the relationship in Olympic shape. You can hire a relationship coach to help one or both of you if you get stuck.
2. If your spouse says there are problems, but they are all because of you, then you are in the majority. This is still a good position, though, because your spouse is recognizing that there are problems. Recognition of problems is the first step to making things better. It is also the basis for starting a dialogue. Continuing the dialogue will depend on your listening rather than trying to get your points across. Your spouse will not be listening to your points anyhow. They will only be forming their counterarguments while you talk. You can be the mature one and listen carefully, agreeing with your spouse wherever possible and not arguing about even one thing.
3. If your spouse denies that there are any problems, then your job will be to raise awareness. People in denial need help becoming aware of a problem before they will even consider doing something about it. Usually, a problem focused approach will just cause more denial. Instead, suggest some of the ways that your relationship might become better–feeling closer, having more fun, more romance, a budget for each of you to be able to enjoy activities you like, etc. Do not try to push your spouse into action. Action alone will not create change. Pushing your spouse into action is like going on a quickie diet. You will end up with more of what you don’t want in the end.
If your spouse is not ready to work with you now (reactions 2 and 3 above), there are still plenty of things that you can do to work on making your relationship better. Don’t be trapped by the myth that it takes two to improve a relationship. Very often, it is most helpful for the most emotionally healthy person to begin working first. As improvements are made, your partner and other family members will have to readjust to your changes. In this way, the healthy person in the family has the most power to help their family to change. Marriage and family counselors have capitalized on this fact for years.
People who are dissatisfied with their relationships are often willing to make changes, but don’t know how. Change is a difficult, but satisfying process that results in a life that we enjoy living and a relationship that we enjoy having. You may wish to hire a relationship coach to help you to have a positive, goal-focused approach, to create the love and life that you want.
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