” Ab, I know you are mad about something – just tell me what it is that is bothering you,” My husband Bernard said to me one night when I was being overly quiet and giving short responses – a dead giveaway that something was in fact wrong.
I sat on the couch, arms crossed, biting my lower lip contemplating my response. I decided to say, ” I am not sure if it is worth even mentioning, I just need to get over it.” Bernard incensed by my response replied, “You know the rules. If you don’t speak up and say what it is that is bothering you then we cannot fix it. I am not going to guess, and we will just move on never having addressed it.”
My husband is good. I felt both pride and a little irritation at that moment because Bernard was able to to use proper conflict management skills to assist in moving the situation further, but irritation that he used my craft against me.
There are two points I will be writing about this week regarding this exchange, but first, I need to provide further explanation. Bernard and I do have a rule that we will not play guessing games where our feelings and emotions are concerned. We established long ago that we could not read one another’s mind and therefore if we are mad or upset about something we must speak up because making the other guess what is wrong is a game neither of us is willing to play.
The other portion of this exchange that is important is Bernard using these lines, ” We can’t fix it – We will just move on never having addressed it.” Those lines are like kryptonite to someone who has studied conflict management. Unresolved issues make me nervous because of their potential to build resentment and cause anger to linger and fester; therefore, no matter what the problem is big or small, I will always discuss it because I refuse to let something small like Bernard not unloading the dishwasher become World War Three later down the road.
Why is it important to not play guessing games?
We often have expectations as to how others should behave, but on occasion, we may find that they fall short of what we expect of them. When other’s fall short of expectations we may find ourselves disappointed with hurt and upset feelings. How we respond to our disappointment can transpire in the form of anger, conflict, and the silent treatment. What I have heard from other’s when they are in the midst of one of these letdown fights as I call them, is that they feel their partner should know and understand why they are upset and they should not have to tell them. Placing another expectation upon their significant other, that they will likely not meet.
What we forget is that every person and situation is unique. While I might expect that Bernard will see the green dishwasher light is on signaling the dishes are ready to be unloaded and will do so on his lunch break, I am not taking into account Bernard’s point of view or what circumstances he is dealing with at that time. Perhaps, Bernard did see the green light but was in a rush because his morning meeting ran over and he had to quickly come home eat, let out and feed our dog Alvin, and get back to the office in time for another meeting. Maybe he intended on emptying the dishwasher when he returned home later that evening but didn’t have time before I arrived. When I come back that evening, I might feel annoyed, or anger at seeing the dishwasher has not been unloaded, that I now have to do it in addition to feeding and letting Alvin out and getting dinner started. My annoyance and anger could result in me angrily unloading the dishwasher, making passive aggressive remarks, or giving Bernard the silent treatment because he should know and understand that the dishwasher needs to be emptied and he should help to put the dishes away. While this is not a current argument in our lives, we did have several disagreements about this at the beginning of our marriage. Those disagreements resulted in the No Guessing Rule.
It is the self-involved nature of humans that prompts us to think what we are upset about is the most obvious thing in the world, but to other’s, it is not which results in the guessing game. To alleviate and thwart a prolonged conflict, expressing to your partner in a calm and cool fashion what you are upset about gives them the opportunity to help resolve the issue or at least apologize if the circumstance warrants it. Another facet of our No Guessing Rule is that if you do not speak up, then you cannot be upset about it or bring it up later, you must let it go.
Which leads me to my next point…
Why it is vital to address issues when they arise?
As I mentioned earlier, unresolved issues can cause resentment to grow and anger to linger and fester. I have witnessed throughout my life these types of battles, where the current fight is about something small but is blown out of proportion due to all the unresolved topics that were never addressed in the past. Where phrases like, “This is exactly what you did the last time…” or “You always do this…” or “What is the point of even bringing this up you are just going to do it again…” are said. Unaddressed issues can lead to toxicity in the relationship, which can be bad for all parties involved. Although I know some people out there can let things go and push feelings aside for issues they believe are no big deal, I don’t like to because I have witnessed small things that are “let go” and pushed down time after time, boil to the surface. Therefore, no matter the issue big or small, even if I genuinely feel it is no big deal, I bring it up anyway because what may be no big deal now, could over time evolve into something larger later.
Doesn’t it get a bit tedious expressing and bringing up every little thing that bothers you or needing to point out what you are upset about to your husband?
The short answer is no. But I recognize that I also have no problem addressing or dealing with conflict. Other’s who fear conflict may feel differently, and to those people I say, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the more comfortable and better you will feel. I do not like or enjoy being in conflict with Bernard and vice versa – we would prefer the time we spend together to be happy and therefore, we make it our goal to resolve issues as quickly as they arise so we can return to the pleasantness of our lives.
I challenge each one of you this week to remove the guessing out of your disagreements and address all issues big and small!