Why do most relationship issues go unresolved? Because you hesitate to talk about them.
Why do you hesitate to talk about them? Because you don’t want to start a fight.
Why don’t you want to start a fight? Because you’re so worried that expressing anger will damage your relationship.
Why are you so worried that expressing anger will damage your relationship? Because the foundation you built was thin.
Why was the foundation thin? Because you leave most relationship issues unresolved.
It’s a cycle, a tiresome cycle many relationships fall into. It goes on and on, leaving two strangers walking on eggshells, constantly trying to avoid sparking negative emotions. We consider relationships where two people regularly swear at yell at each other unhealthy, but relationships, where two people are keeping issues under the rug to refrain from heated arguments, are just as terrible.
No opposing view is being voiced out and acknowledged. No one is being heard. No one is brave enough to rock the boat for the sake of understanding.
Most relationships fail not because couples don’t know how to avoid conflicts; it’s because they don’t know how to deal with conflicts when they arise. They don’t know how to argue without being aggressive. Let’s cut to the chase – how are you going to deal with relationship problems without putting your seemingly “stable” bond at risk? Psychologist, author, and speaker Guy Winch shares a formula for arguing and complaining the assertive way: The Complaint Sandwich. The formula, which can be utilized for solving relationship problems, is composed of three parts: The ear-opener, the meat, and the digestive.
Complaining always sounds like you’re attacking someone (because it actually is). You aren’t pleased and you’re calling out someone for something they did wrong or something they failed to do. Now, the “ear opener” refers to the positive statements you say before proceeding to the meat of your message.
Your partner can’t get his hands off his video game console, and you feel ignored and disrespected. Instead of raising your pitch (which could ignite anger and worsen the listening barrier) start with a light and gentle introduction to “open the ear”
“We’re both stressed at work lately. I missed spending quality time with you but we rarely get the chance. I understand you want to relax this evening.” It’s not being indirect nor insincere – it’s being thoughtful of your partner’s feelings while making sure you get your message across effectively.
Once you’ve caught your partner’s attention and stabilized positive emotions, get your message across as clearly as possible. Your goal is for your partner to get your point and chew it, not prove a case with supporting pieces of evidence that are hard to swallow.
The meat of the sandwich should be lean, and by lean I mean clear, brief, and objective.
You may say, “I understand that the gadget helps you relax but I think you have to set boundaries and be mindful when it’s becoming disruptive. I feel disrespected whenever I’m talking to you and you’re shutting me out because you have to reach the highest score.”
State your “ask.” What is it you actually want to take from this conversation? Do you need an apology? Do you want your partner to make up for his failure? Do you simply want to call his attention? Are you going to propose a “from now on” agreement to prevent these things from happening again?
Avoid sleeping without solving the issue; without reaching the “digestive”. Yes, you may rest, take the time to breathe, calm down, and think things through, but always come back to resolve what was once started. End the complaint with a positive statement that secures all is well between the two of you. Don’t forget the sweet make-up hugs and kisses!
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is one of the writers for The Relationship Room, a couples psychology institution specializing in relationship counseling and therapies for couples and families. When she’s not using her pen in writing self-help articles focused on love, dating, and relationships, she spends her time creating poems and screenplays, painting, and making music.