Billy drinks to avoid it. Carmen works to avoid it. Sandy busies herself with her kids to avoid it. “IT” is CONFRONTATION, something so many of us never learned how to handle. Couple after couple that walk through my office doors end up talking about how they are uncomfortable with confrontation. The way these couples avoid it differs but they all try to avoid it nonetheless.
“I don’t want to hurt my wife”, says Billy, “That is why I would just rather not discuss these things.” But what Billy has learned is that not discussing can often make the situation worse. He remembered a time when his wife had asked him to plan something special for her birthday. Each day that got closer to her birthday she would playfully ask him how his plans were coming along. During that time, his stomach would sink. He was so nervous about planning something she would not like that he instead planned nothing. On her birthday she asked him what the plans were and he told her he was called into work unexpectedly. She was livid and hurt. After discussing this in therapy, Billy was able to realize how much he wanted to please his wife. He also connected his current behavior to how his mother would react in the past. (He described his mother as a perfectionist who would berate him if he wasn’t perfect.) Mary, Billy’s wife, was able to explain to him that she didn’t care if he planned a trip to McDonald’s, just as long as it came from him. Billy went on to plan a surprise birthday party for her two months later.
Confrontation is unavoidable in all relationships. The way the confrontation is handled (or not handled) will determine how healthy the relationship is or is not. To confront an issue takes courage, patience, and the ability to listen, something many of us may not have seen growing up. Much of what people have seen is that confrontation means fighting. NOT TRUE. It means having the strength to deal with issues as they arise versus sweeping them under the rug. The rewards are huge when you learn the art of gracefully moving through a heated discussion. Here are some hints to get you started:
- Ask your partner if now is a good time to talk. If not, agree on a mutually convenient time and follow up then.
- One person talks at a time.
- Try not to get defensive, but instead really listen and hear what your partner is saying. (There may even be an element of truth in it!)
- Be brave. (Bravery is being scared and doing it anyway)
- Talk only about how you feel, think believe and perceive the situation. Do not assume you know how your partner is feeling.
Keep in mind that the short term “relief” will not last. Instead , it will become anxiety over the secret you are holding. The discomfort you may feel in confronting the issue will not last either. The long term reward of being closer to your partner and more true to yourself will last, forever.
We only get one life, why not make it as authentic as possible? Face your fears, confront the issues and watch how your relationship blossoms.