**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Most couples find the big issues that come up in relationships challenging. But it’s the little things that often threaten to tear them apart. At least that was the case for my neighbors.
They’d been married for 32 years when they wound up in therapy.
Neither of them had been unfaithful. They didn’t have money problems. And they loved their children and grandchildren dearly. But something much more insidious was eating away at their relationship — a color scheme.
The wife decided to redecorate the den, which had slowly morphed into her husband’s “man cave” after the kids moved out.
She labored through the meticulous process of choosing a palette and settled on black, white, and gray. Her husband thought it was “too cold” and was convinced that the colors she chose reflected how she saw him. That’s when they went to therapy.
The therapist helped them understand that the “color scheme incident” was just a symptom of the deeper issue — they weren’t communicating. They had stopped talking about the little things that mattered to them without realizing it.
They weren’t asking each other how their days went. They no longer shared what was going on at work or what was going on in their heads.
The therapist helped them see that the way to save their marriage was to start talking to each other again — about the big things and the small.
It’s easy to let the little things slide in a relationship. But if you don’t deal with them, they can become big problems.
When small slights become huge issues.
It’s relatively common for partners to allow their emotions to stack up over time without dealing with them.
For example, a husband might feel hurt that his wife didn’t ask about his day, but he doesn’t say anything.
She fails to ask again the next day, and he gets even more hurt. This builds until he’s so hurt that he can’t even articulate what the problem is — he just knows that he’s angry.
The same thing can happen with other seemingly minor issues, like not feeling appreciated or feeling like your partner is taking you for granted.
These slights can build up over extended periods until they become a huge deal.
Unexpressed expectations can ruin a good thing.
Even well-communicated couples have issues that arise from unspoken expectations. The trouble is that our unmet expectations can lead to resentment. But how can your partner know what you need if you don’t tell them?
In the early days of my relationship, I expected my partner to show interest in what was going on with me, even if it didn’t seem necessary to him.
I thought he should know what questions to ask and when. I didn’t tell him this, of course. I just assumed that he should know. And when he didn’t, I’d get frustrated.
It wasn’t until we talked about it that I realized that my expectations were unreasonable. He couldn’t read my mind, after all.
Since then, we’ve made a point of checking in with one another to ensure that our needs and expectations are being met.
This has helped us avoid a lot of frustration, making our relationship much stronger.
Assumptions are always a bad idea.
Festering expectations can wreak havoc, but assumptions can bring the house down. In the case of my neighbors, the wife assumed that her husband would be happy with the new color scheme because she liked it.
She didn’t stop to think about his feelings on the matter or how the change might affect him. And while this might seem like a trivial issue, it led to a significant rift in their relationship.
Making assumptions about your partner’s feelings, needs, or desires is never a good idea. The only way to truly know what your partner wants or needs is to ask.
Good communication is an ongoing dialogue that makes everything welcome. Whether it’s something as simple as what’s for dinner or as complicated as how you’re feeling about your relationship, talking to your partner is not optional, it’s required.
It’s the only way to ensure that your needs are being met and that your relationship is on track.
10 Tips for better communication
If you’re not used to communicating with your partner, it can be tough to know where to start. But there are some things that you can do to get the conversation flowing.
1. Make sure that you’re both in a good place emotionally. If you’re feeling angry or hurt, it will be hard to have a productive conversation.
2. Make a point of checking in with each other regularly. This doesn’t need to be a formal sit-down conversation, but it should be a time when you can both focus and really listen to what the other person is saying.
3. Make sure that you’re both on the same page about what you want from the conversation. If one person is looking to vent and the other is looking for solutions, you’re sure to hit a wall.
4. Be honest about your feelings and needs. This can be tough, but it’s essential to bring your partner up to speed on your emotional landscape.
5. Be open to hearing your partner’s feelings and needs. This is a two-way conversation, after all.
6. Be willing to compromise. If you’re not willing to budge on what you want, the conversation will likely end in an argument.
7. Be willing to listen. This might seem obvious, but it’s vital to hear what your partner is saying.
8. Be respectful. Even if you disagree, remember disrespect is hard to recover from.
9. Be patient. Good communication takes time and effort, so be patient with yourself and your partner.
10. Be prepared to work on it. Just like any other skill, communication takes practice. So be ready to put in the time and effort to make it work.
“Relationships die when the two people in it stop talking. And I don’t mean actual, physical talking (“We talk all the time!”). I mean the kind of real, honest conversations that couples have all the time at the beginning of a relationship, but which fade over time.” — John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
These ten tips are a great starting place for what could be the beginning of more open and honest communication with your partner and more harmony in your relationship.
Do you have any experiences with communicating with your partner that you can share? What tips would you add to this list? Feel free to share in the comments.