"Everybody has things in their relationship that they wish their partner would change. The trouble is that suggesting those often doesn’t give us the response we are hoping for. Some couples need a third party to help them navigate these types of delicate conversations." - Julia Flood
How Can I Change My Partner?
by Julia Flood, LCSW
Everybody has things in their relationship that they wish
their partner would change. The trouble is that suggesting those often doesn’t
give us the response we are hoping for. But even though you don’t have control
over your partner, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to improve
your interactions. Part of the communication problem might be a "harsh
beginning" on your end, i.e. opening conversations with criticisms,
sarcasm, or contempt.
Let’s say for example you wish your partner would do the
dishes more. Rather than complaining that he or she doesn’t do them, let alone
suggesting that s/he is a lazy slob, you might want to say: "I’ve had a
busy day and feel pretty tired. I would like to rest, but I’m worried that the
dishes will pile up and add to my work load in the morning. I’d like to find a
solution. Can you pitch in, say, within the next hour or so?"
Here you’re not insulting or trying to control your
partner, but you are taking responsibility for communicating your needs to
them. But what if your partner doesn’t help? Maybe s/he tells you s/he is
working against a deadline and doesn’t have any time to spare that night. And
that happens several days in a row. Again, the way to begin the conversation is
with yourself. Using "I feel" and "I need" rather than
"you should" or "you always" is a much softer way to start
"I’d like to talk to you about something. Do you have
a minute? (Actually wait for a response here)... In the past week, I’ve
done the majority of the dishes. This is not working for me, because I don’t
have that kind of energy, and it doesn’t feel very good. I need some help
figuring out how to how we can divvy up the work. If that doesn’t work for you,
let’s hire someone to help us out."
The main difference between this and the more common
strategies of complaining, whining, nagging, sighing loudly, eye rolling, or
giving the silent treatment, is that you are clearly identifying and
communicating your needs. It is a non-blaming way of speaking that prevents your
partner’s automatic defensiveness. We
might feel like "we shouldn’t have to" negotiate these things, but
telepathy is a very unreliable form of communication!
In addition to a softer beginning, in order to get the best
results, you may have to reveal more of your personal feelings, especially the
more vulnerable ones underneath the annoyance.
- Instead of saying: "I'm sick of
always visiting your folks", say: "I feel like spending time alone
together. Can we do something special this week-end?"
- Instead of saying: "I hate
Christmas. We’re gonna be in debt for the next 6 months", say: "I
want to enjoy the holidays with you, but I worry about the bills. Can we talk
about a budget?
- Instead of saying: "Why do you
never want to have sex anymore?", say: "I’ve really been missing you.
What can I do to get you in the mood.
Often what we feel on a superficial level is anger,
annoyance, resentment, and judgment for for our partners when we have something
we need from them. Try digging deeper and get in touch with what triggered
those thoughts and feelings. If you notice that you feel resistant to having a
cooperative attitude, this might be a sign that you’ve been avoiding certain
thoughts and feelings for a while. Maybe there is some grudge or resentment
you’ve never been able to admit to yourself, let alone express openly. Do you
feel helpless, embarrassed, or hopeless? Are you worried about being
controlled? Are you afraid to trust because of past hurt? Some couples need a
third party to help them navigate these types of delicate conversations. Couples
therapy can create a safe space to explore the conflicts in your relationship,
providing you with the tools you'll need—both to communicate your own needs,
and to listen to the needs of your partner in order to break out of the
underlying dynamics and destructive patterns in your interactions with one
Julia Flood, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in San Francisco's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. She has been working in the mental health field since 1996 and specializes in couples therapy/marriage counseling, helping partners in crisis to break out of the vicious cycle of hurting and being hurt. You can find out more about Julia on her website:www.newstarttherapy.com, or by calling (415) 820-3210 to arrange an initial phone consultation. She is bilingual in German.
Labels: Communication Skills, Couples Therapy, Julie Flood