I admit that if anyone had told me not to talk about my relationship to my husband when I was newly married 26 years ago, I would have dismissed that person as a nut job. I probably would have smugly said, “We talk about everything.”
You might be getting ready to put me in the nut job jar too, but before you do, let me tell you what I do that makes my relationship amazing and gets me all the things I was trying to get (but never did) by talking to my husband about our relationship.
First, here’s what used to happen at my house, before I knew any better: I used to say, “We need to talk about our relationship.”
Maybe you’ve done the same thing.
This seemed perfectly reasonable to me, since everybody knows that communication is the key to a good relationship, right?
During these “State of the Union Addresses” (our union), I’d sit him down on the drab gray couch and tell him where he was going wrong and what he needed to do to improve.
I knew the things I said were not complimentary, but I told myself that I was saying what had to be said—the truth!—never that I was a tedious toothache of a wife.
I believed it was going to make my life a whole lot better if he finally got it that he needed to make dinner sometimes, spend more time with me, be more affectionate and make more money.
I even gave him some tips on how to best do the things I was asking. It was so simple, really.
I thought, “All he has to do is what I’m telling him to do.”
I kept talking until he seemed like he was getting it and was actually going to do something this time.
Because the last time we talked, nothing really changed.
Or the time before that. Or the time before that.
But since the problems were still with us, the only option I could see was to have another State of the Union talk––even though they never went very well.
Either my husband didn’t listen, or else he got defensive and made it into an argument. Sometimes there’d be a big fight. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.
That’s because I wasn’t getting anywhere—definitely nowhere that I wanted to go.
By that time, the connection between us was not what you’d call deep. In fact, it had usually gone missing completely.
And my list of things I wanted him to work on? That never got worked on.
Him working on things: 0
All we had at the end was wall-to-wall hostility and a looming divorce.
So why doesn’t talking about your relationship work?
1. No relationship ever got better from talking to your husband about it.
Let’s start with the part where I said, “We need to talk.”
The translation to my husband (and all men everywhere) is, “You’re in trouble.” It signals your husband that you would like to spend some time criticizing him. Nobody likes hearing that.
No marriage ever got more connected that way. And no husband ever left that conversation thinking he couldn’t wait to get his wife into bed, or to buy her flowers, or jump up and do more housework.
More likely he was anxious to do anything—watch YouTube, work late, play video games—but interact with the woman who was telling him all the ways he was wrong and bad.
That’s just human nature.
2. Complaining is like talking to your husband on a phone with no cell reception and expecting him to get the message.
We’re all good at finding fault. Maybe he throws his clothes on the floor. He hoards things in the garage. He plays video games too much. He’s always late.
But your husband can’t even hear you when you’re complaining.When you complain, he just sees your lips moving and you becoming ten times less attractive than you are when you’re happy and smiling. Click To Tweet
When you say, “I’m sick of you throwing your clothes on the floor, Steve,” you might as well be saying, “Blah, blah, blah, Steve.” That’s how much he can’t even hear you.
He doesn’t know what to do to make things better.
3. So if You Can’t Talk About Your Relationship, How Will it Ever Improve?
Don’t worry. You can still get everything you want.
The key is to make one simple conversion. Every time you find yourself frustrated by something about him, ask yourself this question:
What is my pure desire underneath the complaint?
Not what do you want him to do, but what is the final outcome that you would love to have?
A complaint like “I’m sick of you throwing your clothes on the floor,” becomes, “I would love to have a tidy bedroom.”
That’s it—just one sentence. That’s all you need.
Suddenly he’ll be able to hear you. Even better, he’ll know what to do to make you happy.
One new mother made a list of her desires while she was sick and watched in amazement as her formerly lazy, TV-aholic husband worked his way down the list to fulfill on each and every one of them for her.
As he left the house, she asked him where he was going and he said, “To make your dreams come true.”
The key was to focus on what she wanted so he knew how to make her happy.
When she was happy, he couldn’t get enough of her. So she no longer needed to instruct him to spend more time with her.
She was blown away by how she was getting everything she’d ever tried to get him to do in State of the Union Addresses.
They don’t have those anymore at her house.
She says she doesn’t miss them at all.