Kate Campbell, PhD, LMFT
How do I talk to my partner about a behavior that's really bothering me?
In an ideal world, you and your partner could carry on blissfully without anything ever bothering or annoying you. However, that simply isn’t the case. And in fact, you may not want it to be. Studies show that when couples discuss and work through irritating behaviors they are exhibiting healthier communication (think more open, less defensive, and more willing). This actually creates higher levels of comfortability around each other, as they can be their most relaxed self. But that certainly won’t quell the frustration in the moment of despair when you’ve had enough and decide it’s time to speak your mind. So if and when you decide to speak your mind, this post is for you!
Let’s have a soft start to this, as it can be incredibly delicate and touchy. Try sharing your complaint with your partner without blaming them. You can navigate through this in using “I” statements (I’m upset that after a long day at work there is a pile of dishes in the sink) as opposed to “You” language (you never do the dishes and always wait for me to get home to do them).
Remember, this isn’t an attack on your partner, but simply a conversation in which you’ll express yourself and work together in alleviating this bother. Focus on the WHAT – for example, leaving dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink to “soak.” It can be very tempting to jump a few paces ahead and label your partner as being selfish and inconsiderate but focus on what is bothering you as opposed to an assumed underlying meaning.
Another approach is to start these conversations by genuinely sharing what you appreciate about your partner then make a softer transition into what you’re hoping you two can work changing TOGETHER. That soft start-up can almost guarantee a more peaceful conversation with your partner as opposed to starting off with a swing and upper left hook to their habits.
If you’re going to be discussing a bothersome habit of your partners, try stating observations and avoid over-generalizations. Over-generalized criticisms sound like this: “You ALWAYS leave the dirty dishes out,” or “you NEVER remember to text me at the end of your workday.” Statements like this propel the defendant to begin to think of exceptions as to free them from this charge. You two aren’t in a heated defense trail in which evidential support needs to be recalled. You’re in a relationship, in which openness, love, compromise, and understanding should be the framework.
Remember to be vulnerable and sincere with your partner. Despite these bothersome features or traits, you do love this person, lead with that. Try your best to be concise and stick to one complaint at a time. These conversations can be difficult, no need to drag them out for hours on end.
These conversations can be difficult, but they also can be wildly beneficial and potentially beautiful. The two of you can deepen intimacy and build a strong bond if you’re able to communicate freely and trust in one other to have your best intentions in mind. Seek to understand your partner and their point of view behind the behavior. Try to learn as much as possible from each other so you can continue to evolve and grow together.
If you want additional help with communication, conflict management, or want to deepen your connection with your partner, Dr. Kate Campbell, LMFT and the team at Bayview Therapeutic Services are just a phone call away at 954.391.5305. Happy conversing! Dr. Kate provides pre-marital counseling, marriage therapy, and couples counseling in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.