Relationships aren’t always easy, and most people understand that it’s more than roses and champagne. There is one problem that is very common in most relationships and it manages to linger around because it manifests itself in so many different ways.
Consider the following scenario and see if you can spot the underlying issue causing friction in this relationship:
Luke has been dating his girlfriend Alice for just over a year. Luke and Alice met through, let’s say Foreign Girlfriend dating site. Alice’s father is Japanese, and she mostly grew up in Japan. Luke is American, but so far the cultural differences in their upbringing have not been an issue.
Things have been going great, but lately Luke notices that Alice becomes frustrated with him every time they go out. No matter where they’re going, Alice always seems angry shortly after they arrive.
Luke doesn’t know how to talk with her about it. She’s not openly aggressive, but he can sense something is wrong. This throws him off for the evening and he becomes self-conscious and acts strangely. This only seems to further alienate Alice.
Never Underestimate the Power of Talking
In case you haven’t guessed yet, Luke and Alice are having a breakdown of communication. There are many reasons couples stop communicating. Sometimes, a lack of communication grows over time and other times it becomes a habit early in the relationship.
There’s a reason most therapies are based around open and honest communication: it is the foundation of every relationship. This includes the one you have with yourself!
So, Alice and Luke are having a problem communicating. As you can see from the above scenario, this kind of problem can spiral pretty quickly. Alice becomes visibly upset but doesn’t say anything. Luke doesn’t know what to do and becomes uncomfortable. This only makes the situation worse. Someone has to break the silence!
Unspoken Problems Become Serious Issues
Small, unspoken problems are like a leak in the hull of a boat. It’s a sign of a weak spot that will only get worse over time unless the hull is fixed. To illustrate how this works, let’s revisit our friends Luke and Alice and see how they are faring with their unspoken problems:
Luke and Alice return home from the birthday party of a mutual friend. Alice is being distant and a little cold. Luke has become completely frustrated and is returning the attitude. The two end up in the following argument:
Luke: I suppose you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong with you?
Alice looks up at him surprised, then looks down and walks off quietly. Luke follows her across the room. His voice comes out angrier this time:
“Seriously, it’s like we can never have a good time when we go out anymore! I don’t get it.”
Alice glares back at him. “You’re always late!” She spits the words out. Luke turns pale, then his face reddens. “You can’t be serious! You just can’t be serious! That’s why you get so weird when we go out?!”
The argument continues to get worse until Luke storms out. The couple spend a little time apart until Alice suggests couples therapy.
Working Together to Solve Conflict is Essential
Alice and Luke care for one another, and they have invested a year into growing their relationship. So, when Alice suggests therapy Luke agrees to go for at least one session. During that time, they delve a little deeper into the issue. Luke again expresses that he can’t understand how something so little could cause Alice to treat him poorly in front of friends. It was embarrassing to him.
Alice explains that being on time is a big deal where she grew up, especially to her father. Luke softens, but he’s always been late to things. Alice also spent summers in America with her mother growing up, so it’s not like she’s oblivious to cultural difference. He brings it up, and the therapist encourages Alice to go into more detail.
As it turns out, Alice has not been back to Japan since starting college. It has been more than 5 years, but she does not have the time to plan a trip like that right now. Her frustrations with Luke were more about missing her home and her father. The two end the session by making practical plans for Alice to spend some time in Japan, bringing Luke with her.
In a partnership, it is not uncommon for one person to project emotions onto the other person involved in the relationship. This is true even if the emotions are unrelated to the relationship. So, when couples fail to communicate, little misunderstandings can turn into big problems.
Unresolved personal issues have a way of working themselves between happy couples. So, don’t just assume problems will work themselves out. Get talking with your partner and, instead of growing apart, you’ll learn to grow together.