Choosing your relationship battles
Learn how to tell what's worth fighting for and what isn't in a relationship.
Your man leaves wet towels on the floor and it drives you crazy. But he also has an annoying habit of interrupting you every time you try to tell a story. (Even if he’s not even in the story) Both of these things make you feel less than amorous, even angry, but which one do you focus your attention on?
A good relationship needs good communication, but that doesn’t have to mean communicating everything that goes through your head. Sometimes you need to pick your battles in order to get what you want. And we’re not talking about that Daniel Espinosa bauble you have your eye on or the trip to Tahiti you’ve been hinting at. We’re talking about weeding out the bad (constant interruptions) from the good (cuddling after sex, his killer pesto sauce). We let Lois Messinger, M.A. and clinical member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists help us decipher when to let our feelings be known — and when to save our breath.
Say no to nagging
Picking at every little thing he may do does not equal good communication. A partner may tend to “turn off” and stop listening if you are constantly nagging them about little things, Messinger explains. This means when there are more important things to discuss, such as you always being the butt of his jokes at dinner parties, he may not listen.
“Nagging is repetitive and generally one-sided, while a constructive discussion [whether about wet towels or something bigger] takes into consideration the feelings and thoughts of both parties,” she says. While you may not necessarily agree, there is more chance for a respectful outcome.
If you are constantly picking at little things, such as his penchant for leaving the toilet seat up, bigger issues in your relationship may take a back seat. “The listener stops listening and will either block out the criticism or become angry and defensive so the interaction is hurtful,” Messinger explains.
Focus on the big issues
Messinger says the major issues between couples tend to be about the following:
• Child rearing
With good communication these issues can be worked through. It will take effort and guts on your part to bring them up, but if you want a happy and healthy relationship, there is no other choice than to dive in and get to the root of the problem. These are the issues that can make or break your relationship, not the fact he neglects to wear matching socks on a date.
Sometimes though, focusing on the small things can be a sign there are bigger issues under the surface. If you find yourself always nagging your partner about one or two things, ask yourself if there are deeper issues fueling your frustration, and if so, find a way to resolve them. Sorry, but bugging him about the dirty socks balled up behind the bed is not going to help your lack of trust.
On the other hand, an issue may seem trivial to him, but is a major thorn in your side. The key here is not using his credit card to buy a revenge-Birkin, but to respect each other’s perspective on all issues and find a mutually satisfying way to resolve them.
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Talk the talk
If you let the small stuff trump the bigger issues in your relationship, the bigger issues will eventually come back to haunt you. This means you need to talk about them. “Buried resentments and disappointments wear away at the foundation of a relationship and, after a period of time a couple may give up and grow apart due to lack of understanding and closeness,” explains Messinger.
Hearing the feelings of your partner and airing differences in a relationship are important to the health of the partnership. “No two people are ever completely alike and need to be able to express what they feel and what they think,” Messinger says.
Messinger’s top 3 pieces of advice for maintaining open, constructive communication in a relationship:
1. Don’t leave large issues to fester and remain unresolved.
2. Practice productive communication consistently.
3. Seek help if your communication style is destructive and causing the erosion of your relationship.
Timing is everything
It’s all about timing when it comes to deciding to share annoyances with your partner. For example, it’s a good idea to save a talk about household issues, such as his lack of interest in dirty dishes, when he’s most likely to be receptive.
A bigger problem, such as the habit of interrupting you while you’re talking is something that can hamper successful communication and should be worked on early in a relationship, i.e. as soon as you notice it as a recurring problem, so that it has a chance of being resolved. Don’t let the important issues fall by the wayside, flag them for discussion as soon as you feel hurt or upset so the issue doesn’t fester.