“Honey, we’ve got to talk.”
Do you hear this phrase often enough to make your blood run cold? Do most of your relationship talks start this way? Does this usually preface a several-hour discussion? If your relationships’ communication styles rely on a series of “Come to Jesus” chats, you’re not really communicating. Someone’s lecturing and someone’s resisting. That’s not communicating.
In a relationship where communication lines are open, there’s a much more fluid sense to it. You might have a partner ask, “Hey, just checkin’ in. How are you feeling relationship-wise between us?” If you feel ice in your guts when something like that is asked, you have a large and dramatic problem. If you find yourself relaxed and glad of the opportunity to bring up a little point such as, “Well, feeling okay about it, but I wanted to mention that the weasel porn isn’t really my kink, so could we do some other stuff instead? ” and the discussion is done in five or ten minutes, you’re all good.
In a healthy relationship, large and dramatic problems are rare1. Why? Because they’re usually dealt with casually and calmly when they’re small. It’s rather like cleaning as you go in your kitchen and washing the dishes before they get crusty. Dealing with little things as they come up isn’t as exciting, maybe, as the big, dramatic blowups and discussions. But, it’s probably better to save your desire for an adrenalin rush for jumping out of airplanes or something and take care of your relationships a bit more smoothly.
To do this well, you have to be willing to do several things. You need to be willing to ask your partners what they’re thinking and feeling, you need to listen carefully to what they’re saying, and you need to be able to volunteer what you’re thinking or feeling on a regular basis. Don’t let things fester.
However, there’s a difference between not letting things fester and feeling like you have to deal with the issue the very second you think it, too! You don’t need to meet partners at the door with it, interrupt their work with it, wake ’em up in the middle of the night with it or any of that. If it doesn’t involve blood or fire, any of these things can wait 48 hours or so2. If you’re dealing with it on a regular basis, it probably isn’t so urgent it can’t wait a day, anyway.
To make it work, be open with your partner. If you partner asks how things are going, but you’re in the middle of a project that has a deadline, you can and should say so! “Sugar, I do wanna let you know, but I’m so busy until Thursday that I can’t think about anything but but finishing this project for the Evil Overlord.” Come Thursday, though, you’d better be ready to cough up what you’re thinking! If you’re not wanting to communicate and are looking for ways not to, you definitely have some self-examination to do about your relationship.
Rather like getting in the habit of decluttering regularly, you’ll find your relationships will be less messy and far more relaxed.
Oh, and more fun, too! I know you want that, so enjoy.
And for those of you who celebrate it, Happy Hobbit Day!
1Rare doesn’t mean never, m’kay? Yes, of course a good relationship can have rocky spots sometimes!
2If your partner isn’t willing to talk at all, then you have a different problem. It does take two people to communicate, and what can’t we force other people to do boys and girls? Right.
9 thoughts on “Don’t Let the Dishes Get Crusty”
Ugh, I hate that “we need to talk” phrase, especially given how often I’ve heard it followed up with a list of my problems and sometimes after THAT a breakup.
Effective communication is such an elusive beast.
I hate to say but I agree with Soli. Virtually every time I’ve heard the phrase “We need to talk,” it’s prefaced the lines “That sounds ominous” and “It is” – often followed by a break-up. 😐
The author is absolutely right – good effective communication and dealing with the big problems before they become big problems is a very, very good habit to get into. I’m still learning the knack of it…
I think this may just be the greatest Misanthrope column in, like, the history of ever.
agree very much with this need to work things out idea. but don’t think any male will agree there may be something that needs work. men are the perpetual ostriches. deaf ostriches even. whatever bothers her is always her problem. “the crazy frustrated female should go get help somewhere” or “buy herself a new outfit”
I think that there’s a distinction to be made between “Now isn’t a good time to bring this relatively small thing up, so I’ll stew on it and punish you silently and be mad for 48 hours until I finally decide I’m ready to talk about it.” and “Now isn’t a good time, so I’m going to let this one go for a few hours and then we’ll talk.” and really letting it go for a few hours. If you’re going to let it go for a few hours, if it’s a small thing, then truly let it go until you’re willing to talk about it. The former is something too much like passive aggressive bullshit, but unfortunately all too common. If a small thing upsets you or tweaks your buttons and you need to think about it before you talk about it, FINE. But you don’t get to use it like a silent stick on the other person. Because then? It turns into one of those “We have to talk.” things. Rapidly.
Nothing makes me more frustrated and upset than feeling like I’ve been punished for 2 days for something I know not what, only to have someone cough up this tiny thing that could have been resolved on the spot, and say, “Well I needed to think about it.” when I call them on why they’re beating me with the emotional baseball bat of Not Talking.
Speaking as a guy, I have to say I prefer problems being presented when they’re small.
Small problems are easier to fix.
Big problems usually require catastrophic level solutions.
Big problems that are disguised as little problems had best get used to working with little solutions.
I reward partners who bring me early-stage little problems, usually by some combination of solving the problem, plus a healthy dose of oral sex. I punish partners who bring me big problems by offering catastrophic solutions and ignoring their histrionics if they don’t participate immediately participate in the solution.
People who keep me up past my bedtime had best be engaged in wall-shaking sex — late night is no time to solve big problems (except for the big problem of which wall to shake during wall-shaking sex).
People who choose to stew over an issue have no one to blame but themselves. That is an action that weighs against a potential partner.
Well, I’d change that one paragraph to read:
I reward partners who bring me early-stage little problems, usually by some combination of solving the problem, plus a healthy dose of oral sex. Partners who bring me big problems get offered catastrophic solutions and their histrionics are ignored if they don’t participate immediately participate in the solution.
There’s just no need to punish partners — if they’re fucked up, that’s enough punishment.
Sometimes what’s bothering you, tho, is simply a reality (if temporary), and no amount of talking will solve the problem. So in theory you should control yourself and not pick at the scab, but we’s human.
Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.
Although it is sometimes good to let things calm down a bit before talking about it. There have been a few instances where 1 little thing tips the scale and “Boom!”, the world comes crashing down.
Letting steam vent a bit before erupting can do wonders.
I’ve been told that in talking about something right away, I sound “venomous”. In those cases, I remove myself from the situation and go back with a bit less emotion.