Name: Tom | Location: Chicago , IL |Question: I think my relationship is in the dire need of a tune up. I have been dating the same girl for the last 2 years, and we got into a big fight yesterday about whether or not we want the same thing, she wanting to be more serious, while me maybe wanting to be a little more casual. However saying how crappy I am feeling right now I think I want her pretty badly too right now. A little bit of background. We are both in our late twenties, and met on-line. We started dating maybe 3 months after I moved to Chicago. I was dating other people too, but chose her. I had a job that required heavy travel, and at one time spent 5 months in the Middle East. I quit that job last year, and got a new one that still required travel but not as much. While switching jobs I moved in briefly with my girlfriend (the old job provided a hotel for me to live in, so I was essentially homeless), it was great and I moved out after maybe 3 weeks as I found my own apartment. So it’s almost a year later. I was in the Middle East again, this time for 3 weeks, and have been traveling a lot the last 2 months, but will be home for a long time now. We had a very intense talk yesterday about where we are going with our relationship, and what our next steps should be. Meanwhile lots of people we know are getting married, including my brother, and some of our best friends. I think she wants to take that next step but I’m not really ready yet. I care a lot about her, and think I will be in the future, but I don’t know when. All of my friends who have been married did so after knowing the other person for a long time, maybe 5 – 7 years plus. Should I bring this up? I don’t want to wait 5 years, but maybe like 2 more before making a decision. We are also having problems communicating when we are upset at each other so things gather up and boil over. It’s all things that can be resolved, you know not getting along with her friends, my parents being difficult, stuff like that. Are there any good ways to tell each other when we’re upset at each other? I feel like complete crap right now, and need to figure out what to do. |Age: 27
We are also having problems communicating when we are upset at each other so things gather up and boil over.
Let’s leave all the other stuff to the side for the moment. This? Right here? This is the issue you need to prioritize. This is the thread that, if pulled too hard, will make the whole relationship unravel. There’s nothing more destructive to a relationship than if one or both people can not effectively and maturely express their feelings of hurt, frustration or disappointment. What usually happens is that one person says something hurtful because they are feeling defensive. Then walls come crashing in and it becomes a grudge match.
The key to avoiding such a scene is self-awareness. You have to learn how to identify what exactly it is that you are feeling. If you can’t pin point it, you’ll never be able to communicate what it is that is going on in your head. Anger is usually a cover for something deeper, like hurt. So if you can think of it that way the next time a situation arises, maybe you’ll put more thought in to what you’re about to say. When we feel hurt, it’s easy to just react and not think. We want the other person to feel what we’re feeling. The goal of any intense discussion between you and someone you care about should be to alleviate the pain, not cause more.
The next step is to empathize for your partner. Put yourself in their shoes and try to rationalize why they took the actions they did. Ask yourself why they might feel the way they feel. Here’s an example. Let’s say you work a really stressful job. You work all kinds of hours and deal with demanding superiors. You aren’t home a lot, you’re time isn’t really your own, etc. Your partner starts complaining that they never see you. They want to know where you are and when you’ll be home. Instead of snapping at them or accusing them of grilling you for your whereabouts, think for a moment why they might be doing that. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they’re afraid that the two of you are drifting apart. Usually, it’s fear (with guilt and hurt being a secondary motivators) that drives people to say things in anger. Empathizing for your partner might help quell the frustration, thereby lowering the chances you will say something in the heat of the moment.
Now let’s revisit the other issues. Never underestimate the pressure a woman might feel by her friends and family in regards to her relationship. Between family members asking questions to friends announcing engagements…it can be a really trying time. How long your friends took to settle down is irrelevant, too. That has no basis in your decision, or at least it shouldn’t.
My guess is that the little fights you’re having are all due to her wanting to know where she stands and you feeling pressured. The thing is, you both essentially want the same thing. THAT’S what you need to tell her. She needs to know that. You need to communicate to her how important she is to you and that you, like she, see a real future. Right now, she’s probably questioning that, and her insecurity has to do with not just you and your actions, but those of her friends. I think you’re both probably going on the defensive every time a disagreement arises, and you’re not really hearing what the other is saying. Instead of going to that place, remind yourself that you and she have the same intentions and want the same things. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t react impulsively. Just listen. It’s very easy to distinguish between genuine anger and hurt or fear. In those moments, we give ourselves away with out pitch and tone and facial expressions.
If you can do that, you’ll be better able to really hear what she’s saying…and feeling.