Dear Neil: My relationship with the man I’ve lived with for seven years can get very volatile at times, and tension can build uncomfortably high between us. There is a fair amount of distancing, withdrawal and irritability between us. But both of us are conflict avoiders, and neither of us is good at bringing tensions or issues up for discussion. Is there a way to tell when we need to talk about conflicts and differences, even when we don’t feel like it?
Stubborn in Longmont, Colorado
Dear Stubborn: The following questions, taken from John Gottman in The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work, may help you decide whether you and your partner need to have a “clearing of the air” conversation:
- I have been acting irritable.
- I have been feeling emotionally distant.
- There has been a lot of tension between us.
- I find myself wanting to be somewhere else.
- I have been feeling lonely.
- My partner has seemed emotionally unavailable to me.
- I have been angry.
- We have been out of touch with each other.
- My partner has little idea of what I am thinking.
- We have been under a great deal of stress, and it has taken its toll on us.
- My partner criticizes or belittles me.
- I wish we were closer right now.
- I have wanted to be alone a lot.
- My partner has been acting irritable.
- My partner has been acting emotionally distant.
- My partner’s attention seems to be somewhere else.
- I have been emotionally unavailable to my partner.
- My partner has been angry.
- I have little idea of what my partner is thinking.
- My partner has wanted to be alone a lot.
- My partner is interpreting what I say or do more negatively than what I intend.
- I have critical of my partner recently.
- We really need to talk.
- We haven’t been communicating very well.
- We have been fighting more than usual.
- Lately, small issues escalate.
- We have been hurting each other’s feelings.
- In an argument, one or both of us withdraws.
- There hasn’t been very much fun or joy in our lives.
Use this questionnaire to assess how things have gone in your relationship recently, and whether you want to bring up any issues for discussion between the two of you. If more than four of these apply, the time to have a discussion about what’s going on in your relationship is now.
Ultimately, being conflict avoidant is self-defeating. You cannot have a vital, passionate, close intimate relationship and forever avoid irritations, tensions, differences, insensitivities and hurts. To not confront these issues insures distance and withdrawal.