Off Topic: Communication in Relationships

You know what really grinds my gears? When couples post things about each other on the internet. You know the type. “I wish some people would be more considerate of some other people’s feelings.” “I feel so unappreciated in my home.” “Currently listening to Womanizer by Britney Spears.” “Why can’t she just say what she means?” Some folks try to be subtle about it, others want their partner to know exactly what’s happening. Either way, the couple feels the need to air out their dirty laundry in front of the entire internet, and it’s frustrating for a few reasons.

Reason one, of course, is that none of us want to know their business. Reason two is that posting hateful things on social media is not good for a relationship. There are healthy ways to communicate problems, and then there are unhealthy ways. Blog posts and tweets fall very decisively into the unhealthy category. So for the very first edition of Off Topic here on Adventure Rules, I thought I’d offer some advice on how to communicate in a healthy way.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to relationships. My longest relationship is the one I have with my wife; we’ve been together for a little over three years, and only married for half of that. I’m not a trained couple’s counselor by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’ve been around married people my whole life. I’ve seen good examples and bad, so I know what works and what doesn’t. Of course, every couple is different, but I think there are some universal principles that can help any kind of couple communicate successfully.

#1: Talk to Your Partner before Anyone Else
This is a classic mistake that can range from mild to “welp, so much for that relationship.” Oftentimes, telling your partner that something he or she is doing is bothering you feels like it is going to start an unnecessary fight. It is so much more tempting to just vent to a close friend and then move on. But there are a few problems with that.
First of all, if you don’t tell your partner when something that they do (or don’t do) bothers you, they’re just going to keep doing it. So by not saying anything, you’re just putting yourself in a situation where you’re constantly going to be dealing with the same problem.
Second of all, telling a friend about it shows that friend an unhealthy picture of your relationship. We live in a world where a ton of marriages end in divorce, and faith in long-term relationships is pretty low. Talking to a friend about all of your problems just reinforces to that person that relationships don’t work. Couples need to present a united front to the world, and doing nothing but complaining about your relationship does the opposite of that.
Third of all, telling a friend of the opposite gender (or same gender, depending on your preference) about your relationship problems can lead to a very messy situation. This has happened to me in the past – I was the confidante for a female friend who was having trouble with her boyfriend, a situation that ended in them breaking up, her dating me for awhile, and then us breaking up too. A relationship founded on this sort of behavior will not end well.
If there’s something your partner is doing that frustrates you, talk it out. It may be awkward for a day, but it’s better than being silently miserable for weeks.

#2: Don’t Argue about your Problems in Front of Other People
Oh gosh, is this an awkward scenario. You’ve been there – the couple starts arguing and you’re left standing there wishing you could magically turn invisible or teleport to the comfort of your home. Do you try to mediate? Do you take a side?
In addition to the aforementioned issue of confirming stereotypes about couples, this habit really cuts into your partner’s self-esteem. It makes them feel stupid in front of their friends or family, and when you’re in a relationship your role is to build the other person up.
Something that works for my wife and I is to say “we’ll talk later.” If one of us realizes the other one is upset and asks what’s wrong but we’re in public, those three simple words are all we need to put the conversation off until later. Once we’re away from other people, we can say whatever we need to. But in public, we present a united front.
I want to add to this that even jokingly putting down your partner can be harmful when it comes to self-esteem. It may seem fun on sitcoms, but it isn’t healthy for your relationship, particularly when other people are present.

#3: Don’t Bottle Your Problems
If you shouldn’t tell your friends in private and you shouldn’t argue in public, that leaves only one option…bottle everything inside and don’t talk about problems ever. That should do the trick, right? You avoid awkward confrontations with your partner, as far as everyone knows everything is fine – it’s the perfect scenario. Except, of course, for the fact that your problem is never going to be solved.
Bottling up anger inside can cause problems long-term. First of all, it causes stress, which makes you unhealthy both mentally and physically. Second of all, the little things you bottle build up into big grudges over time. Eventually, that kind of anger boils over, and suddenly you’re exploding on your partner and yelling about every single thing you’ve kept inside for so much time. And like I mentioned on point #1 above, not saying anything that all keeps the problem from ever being solved. The sooner you say something, the sooner you can work through it.

So there you have it, a few pieces of advice about communicating in your relationship. Hopefully these points will assist you in not posting angry things on your blog or your social media every time your significant other gives you grief. Conversely, on the very likely chance that you’ve got more eloquent advice than I do, feel free to post it in the comments so that others can read it. Let’s all work together to equip each other with the tools to have more successful relationships!

This post is part of a segment called Off Topic, where I blog about something that isn’t a normal part of my repertoire. Adventure Rules is a blog about geeky habits like video games and tabletop RPGs. If you’re into that sort of thing, be sure to check out the home page to read my regular content. Whether you choose to hang around or not, thank you for taking the time to read this post. Perhaps I’ll see you again in a future edition of Off Topic!

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