In my work with couples, I am often asked, "Shouldn't I communicate with my partner about this? Shouldn't we talk this over?"
For example, Ginger noticed that when her husband, Ron, became demanding sexually or started to complain about not having enough sex, she would become defensive and try to talk him out of his feelings by explaining things to him. She would then feel angry, distant and sexually turned off. She continually wanted to talk with Ron about this, hoping to get him to stop complaining. Yet nothing changed. Sometimes Ginger thought there was something wrong with her sexually when she was not turned on, and other times she thought that if only Ron would change, everything would be okay. Yet no amount of talking or exploring the issue changed anything.
Ginger and I discussed a new, loving action she could take when Ron complained about not having enough sex. Instead of defending and explaining, Ginger decided to just say, "Uh huh," with a compassionate tone.
"But shouldn't I tell him why I am just saying 'Uh huh?'"
"Why do you want to tell him why?"
"I guess so that he will not get upset with me."
"So you want to explain yourself as a way to have control over how Ron feels and acts."
Ginger saw that much of her desire to "communicate" was really coming from her intention to control. She kept hoping that if she just 'explained' things, Ron would get it and understand.
"When is it appropriate to talk about stuff?"
"When you are sharing your own new learning without an agenda to change Ron. Sharing your own learning can lead to deeper intimacy, while sharing your feelings in order to control generally leads to conflict and distance."
So, when do we talk and when do we act?
We talk when it is about sharing your own new learning, sharing information or coming up with a plan. For example, it is appropriate to tell your partner if you are going to be home late - that is sharing important information. It is appropriate to discuss what you both want to do on Saturday night, or what movie you might want to see, or if you want to go to the party you were invited to. This talking is about coming up with a plan that affects both of you.
However, if one partner gets controlling about the information or the plan, that is when you might want to stop talking and think about what action you need to take for yourself. Any discussion when one partner is controlling will always break down, because the other partner is now trying to get the first person to stop being controlling.
The time to talk is when both people are truly open to learning and there is no agenda to get the other person to change. The time to take loving action on your own behalf is when you find that you are feeling angry, frustrated, sad, lonely and helpless over the interaction. That is when you need to remember to take loving action in your own behalf.
The challenge is in remembering to do it! After all the years of practicing trying to change someone else, it is often very challenging to let go of that and remember to take care of yourself. Yet this is what really works!
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This article was originally published at Inner Bonding
. Reprinted with permission from the author.