You’ve got some issues with your partner, some things they’re doing that are driving you crazy or maybe it’s some things they’re not doing that have gotten under your skin. But every time you try to speak to them about your relationship problems, you’re met with anger and defensiveness, so you never feel like you get any resolution! In this Ask Dr. Abby segment of the podcast, I’m going to share some tips to help you get out of the fighting rut and find some connection and understanding.
Ask Dr. Abby is the advice segment of the Relationships Made Easy podcast. Submit questions to [email protected]. (I keep it anonymous!)
Here’s the message I received (identifying information and names have been changed):
Dear Dr. Abby,
My boyfriend and I have been together for six years. He’s great in so many ways but there’s one thing we argue about constantly: video games. At night after work (and on the weekends), he wants to play video games for hours. If we have something planned, he’s down to go out and have fun but if there’s nothing on the agenda but the two of us at home, he goes right to gaming.
If I suggest we watch a movie or a show together, he says it’s boring (we don’t like to watch the same kinds of things). Whenever I bring this up, he gets really defensive and angry and says he works hard and needs/deserves some down time. I’m OK with down time for an hour maybe, but three or four hours?! And a lot of times he doesn’t go to bed and stays up late playing and then he’s grumpy the next day with me! It’s so unfair! It feels like he doesn’t love me and only enjoys hanging out with me if we’re doing something fun. I’m sick of being left alone every night to hang out with myself! How can I get him to listen and see that his video gaming is an addiction and he needs to stop?
How to Discuss Relationship Problems with Your Partner Without It Turning Into a Fight
Tip No. 1: Figure Out Why This Particular Thing Is Bothering You So Much
If you keep coming to your partner with the same issue, it means it’s really bothering you. The first question to ask yourself is “Why?” Why is this particular issue under your skin? What do you think it means? How does it make you feel?
Maybe your partner doesn’t seem interested in sex lately and you’re upset that they’re not initiating anything, flirting or complimenting you. What are your thoughts and feelings about this? What is this triggering for you?
When you come to your partner from fear, you’re likely going to get fear back. It doesn’t mean you don’t want your communication level or sex life to change; it means you have to approach the relationship problem from a patient, compassionate, empathetic place.
Tip No. 2: Don’t Label
Don’t tell your partner that they’re addicted to video games, or a narcissist, or bipolar, or unfeeling. Don’t tell them that they don’t love you or that they’re acting defensively (that’s a surefire way to get more defensiveness).
Instead of saying, “You’re being defensive,” ask, “What are you feeling right now?” Stop being so sure you’re right and know what’s happening and start being curious and open to possibilities.
Tip No. 3: Pick Your Time, Place and Feeling
There are a few pieces to this one:
- Don’t have the discussion when the thing you’re upset about is happening.
- Pick a time when you’re both feeling fresh
- Pick a time when you’re feeling connected. Remember, you have to connect to correct!
- Pick a place that’s not volatile. A great idea is to have the conversation outside the house. Maybe on a walk or in the car. If you always “sit at the kitchen table” for serious conversations, and those conversations don’t go well, it’s not a good idea to sit at the kitchen table to talk anymore.
- Make sure you’re at the same place emotionally. Don’t blindside your partner with something. For example, let’s say you’re out at a bar and having fun together watching your local team on the TV. Although there’s some connection right now, your partner’s attention and head space is in a completely different place. If you jump in with “the conversation” here, you’re likely going to get an angry and defensive response.
Tip No. 4: Tell Them What You Want, Not What You Don’t Want
The big mistake most people make when having relationship problems is that they jump in with judgment and criticism as they tell their partner what they’re doing that’s bugging them (hence, wrong). This is like an open invitation for defensiveness and anger.
Instead, start with a question and/or what you do want to see more of. In this case, it might be, “Hey babe. I’m missing you and want to connect a little bit. When can I have some time for just the two of us (today)?