Has your relationship become a shadow of what it once was?
Are your core needs not being met?
Does your partner seem content to take the relationship for granted?
Do you feel drained by an ever-growing pile of resentment and fear what this will do to the relationship if it isn’t dealt with?
If so, it’s probably time to have “the talk”.
Where Do You Want This Relationship To Go?
If you are scared of where this conversation will take you, don’t approach it open endedly or it will become a mud-slinging contest rather than a way to repair the relationship.
Know what you want and what you are prepared to give to make it happen.
Firstly, it is important to decide what changes you feel need to happen. Not what you would like to happen, I really do mean need.
By need I’m referring to the foundations, the lowest common denominator of a relationship that you need in order to thrive. Not just as a partner, by the way, but as an individual. A lot of the time a relationship can fail because we forget what it means to flourish as an individual.
Is this the case here?
Wants can be sacrificed or negotiated for the good of the relationship. Needs are either met or the relationship will suffer until they are (or you breakup).
Deciding Your Wants
Wants are changes you would like to see, or aspects of your routine that are not strictly necessary. These should not be given away lightly, but can be offered up as a sacrifice for the greater relationship good if needs be, but only if it means meeting your partner’s needs.
Sometimes your wants only become apparent because they clash with those of your partner. Maybe you love travelling on weekends but your partner has a preference for recouping their work-week sanity with a lazy lie-in.
In this case one of you is going to bite the bullet. Either you feel like life is passing you by or your partner feels stressed and drained by the constant traveling.
Are you willing to meet your partner half-way? Are they willing to reciprocate? If you are willing to mix your weekends up then you have a “want”. If, on the other hand, your temperaments and existential outlooks are so different that it’s either their way, or your way, or the highway, then you are dealing with a need.
Understanding Your Needs
You shouldn’t feel guilty about being inflexible about things that make up the core of what you need. Giving away too much of yourself will only make you miserable and doom the relationship anyway. You aren’t doing your partner any favors by amputating core parts of your being for them.
Have a firm grasp of what you can’t give up. If you need a little inspiration, think of your needs in terms of:
- Your personal boundaries. How do you expect to be treated?
- Your long-term health. Are your mental and physical health expectations being safeguarded?
- Your finances (sounds crass, but financial security is important). Do you feel safe, do you feel secure?
- Relationship goals. Do you want kids? Do you need a partner that can act as a parent and role model for your children?
- Your energy levels. Do your temperaments fundamentally clash. This “need” is debatable, but in my experience it can be, even if in theory you can make it work.
Know where you stand. Know what you can give without destroying yourself and get ready, because it’s time to have the where is this relationship going talk.
How To Talk To Your Partner
Communicating effectively is important. I’m going to talk a little a bit about how to bring up the conversation without scaring the pants off of your partner, or causing them to flare up defensively.
Side-stepping Fear And Resentment
If you attack your partner’s intentions rather than their conclusions you are going to make them defensive, and nothing will get resolved.
What started as a discussion about making better use of your time together is now about something that happened three years ago at midnight.
My advice would be to tell your partner how you feel, and let them haggle with the details. Instead of blaming them or casting judgment (and making them defensive), make them understand why this talk is necessary from an emotional standpoint.
I know the trend nowadays is to live and die by phrases such as “facts not feelings”, but relationships are not grounded in facts. They are rooted in a spectrum of feelings that are highly contextual. Sometimes what we need is not logical, and the same goes for our partner.
What use is being objectively right if it makes the relationship miserable?
Consider this scenario: Maybe you and your partner go hiking on Sundays. It’s a great way to spend some quality time together, away from the wear and tear of your everyday routine.
There’s only one problem. You hate it. You really, really hate it and would much rather just sit on the couch all weekend and watch movies.
How do you communicate this? Should you communicate this? After all, from an objective standpoint this hiking experience is the right thing to do. It is a bonding event.
So you say nothing, and the resentment slowly builds. You feel increasingly drained and demoralized. As time goes on your partner becomes increasingly insecure about the relationship because they can see you struggle, but don’t know why.
Eventually you either snap, or have the talk.
This is the danger of relying on objective standards and imagery instead of feeling.
On the surface it looks like the perfect relationship. You work hard during the week and adventure together on the weekends. But in reality it is a prison, your personal hell. And your partner dances along, oblivious.
But you can’t hide you misery for long, and eventually your partner will wonder what they are doing wrong. And without an obvious answer the cycle of resentment and guilt begins tearing away at the seams of the relationship.
Tell your partner how you feel.
Pick The Location And The Moment
Don’t use text or Email to do the dirty work or set the stage. You will need body language to truly communicate.
If you feel insecure or scared that having the talk will trigger some kind of relationship meltdown, make it as easy on yourself as possible to feel secure. Take the conversation to a public place, and pick a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
Take your partner out for an espresso. Or better yet, make it a decaf!
What If Things Go Wrong?
Things can go wrong, even if you do everything right.
The main culprits here are a partner that is incapable of hearing what you have to say or a partner that refuses to listen.
Conflict avoidance is a common behavioral trait that will sink relationships if not addressed. There are three main types of conflict avoiders:
- Those who act like everything is okay when it isn’t (such as the partner who goes hiking even though he hates it).
- Those who avoid the discussion by switching to something less painful or difficult.
- Those who simply run.
All three conflict avoidance archetypes can get in the way of talking about where the relationship is going.
If your partner is so risk averse that direct confrontation is impossible, split the “talk” into smaller manageable portions.
For instance, instead of questioning the entirety of the relationship right off the bat, focus on something small and specific and use that discussion as an entry point.
But sometimes no matter what we do or try our partner will simply refuse to take the issue seriously. And at that point we need to withdraw our offer to compromise and answer our own questions with what we have in front of us, and not what we hope. This is the only time I’d try and bury my emotions and make an objective decision. When our partner refuses to co-operate.
At the end of the day, our fulfillment is our responsibility and we owe it to ourselves to put ourselves and our needs first.