When you're in a relationship, especially when you're living together, there will undoubtedly be times when your partner gets on your nerves. For example, you might get irritated when your partner leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor. Perhaps they load the dishwasher in the "wrong" way or leave dirty mugs on the living room floor. Or maybe you think they're spending too much time gaming or watching box sets, and you never seem to do things together?
These examples might sound trivial in isolation, but over time they can build up until you feel a real sense of grievance that will damage your relationship. Whatever the issue, they never seem to want to talk to you about the problem, and you wonder if you're doing something wrong. You try to initiate a discussion around the issue that's bothering you, your partner becomes defensive, and an argument quickly develops. Both of you feel hurt, misunderstood and angry. But is it your partner's fault, or are you to blame?
When you blame someone for their behaviour, whether you're accusing them of being lazy, not paying you enough attention or being a slob around the house, their natural reaction is to become defensive. They're likely to start accusing you in return, itemising all your faults that they find irritating. You both get caught up in a cycle of negative feelings, thoughts and behaviours, and it isn't easy to move on.
The principles that follow will help you break out of this pattern. Then you can work together to resolve your differences, and your relationship will be happier and more fulfilling.
We often excuse our own shortcomings because of circumstances - "I was grumpy with you this morning because I didn't sleep well." But we see the things that irritate us about others as somehow being their fault - you find yourself thinking, " he doesn't talk to me because he's bad-tempered and obsessed with gaming."
You're blaming your partner for not talking to you when you want them to. You think they should be more present for you, more motivated, more agreeable, or more patient.
But maybe your partner is doing their best in the circumstances. Perhaps they're stressed, depressed or anxious. While it's important to let your partner know what you need from your relationship, what would happen if you could accept them for what they are and believe that they're doing the best they can?
When you start with the premise that they're doing their best, you can put yourself in their shoes and have a conversation about whatever it is that's irritating you - from their point of view. And this takes us to another principle:
When you're irritated by something your partner does - or doesn't do - don't bring it up when you're stressed or short of time. Bring the subject up in a neutral way and let your partner describe it from their point of view. Instead of accusing them of not talking to you in the evenings, start the conversation by asking, "Can we talk about the way we spend our time? I often feel as if you don't want to talk to me. Can you give me an idea of how you feel about this?"
Pay attention to what they have to say, and don't get defensive or make counter-accusations. If they say something like "I'm tired and stressed when I get in from work and gaming/TV helps me to relax!" don't reply by saying that you're also stressed and tired, but you can still manage to make time for your partner. You'll be leading up to yet another unproductive row.
When you've listened and understood what your partner says, you can both look for practical solutions. For example, if they're stressed and burned out at work, Bach Flower Mix 83 can help restore their enthusiasm and zest for life. And if they're exhausted in the evenings, agree to spend some quality time together at weekends.
Whatever it is that's irritating you about your partner, the solution must also address your own needs. Try to communicate your needs in a nonjudgemental way, so rather than saying, "I need you to talk to me more", you could suggest that talking and spending more time together would improve the relationship for both of you.
When you understand the other person's perspective, try to develop solutions together so that both your needs are addressed. For example, if you say, "Well, I just won't talk to you when you're tired in the evenings", this doesn't address your requirement for more communication.
A better option might be to suggest that you keep conversation to a minimum when they get in from work but make time for relaxing and chatting together later in the evening. Approaching the problem in this way will help you feel more in tune with one another rather than feeling pushed aside, angry and hurt.
Relationships are often messy, and facing up to challenges can be difficult. But you don't have to play it by any rule book; you should be open and honest with one another.
Maybe the first solutions you come up with won't work. But discovering what doesn't work can be as important as finding out what does. So if your relationship is worth continuing, keep coming back to the issue until you find an answer that worlds for you both. Time spent on resolving your differences is an investment in your future together.
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