Relationships: When To Talk, When To Act

08/30/2016 10:24 am ET Updated Aug 30, 2017

Do you struggle with knowing when to communicate with your partner about a problem and when to just solve it yourself?

In my work with couples, I am often asked, "Shouldn't I communicate with my partner about this? Shouldn't we talk this over?"

For example, Ginger noticed that when her husband, Ron, became sexually demanding or started to complain about not having enough sex, she would become defensive and try to talk him out of his feelings by explaining things to him. She would then feel angry, distant and sexually turned off. She continually wanted to talk with Ron about this, hoping to get him to stop complaining. Yet nothing changed. Sometimes Ginger thought there was something wrong with her sexually when she was not turned on, and other times she thought that if only Ron would change, everything would be okay. Yet no amount of talking or exploring the issue changed anything.

Ginger and I discussed a new, loving action she could take when Ron complained about not having enough sex. Instead of defending and explaining, Ginger decided to just say, "Uh huh," with a compassionate tone.

"But shouldn't I tell him why I am just saying 'Uh huh?'"

"Why do you want to tell him why?"

"I guess so that he will not get upset with me."

"So once again, you want to explain yourself as a way to get Ron to feel a certain way."

Ginger saw that much of her desire to "communicate" was really coming from an intent to control.

"When is it appropriate to talk about stuff?"

"When you are sharing your own new learning without an agenda to change Ron. Sharing your own learning can lead to deeper intimacy, while sharing your feelings in order to control generally leads to distance."

So, when do we talk and when do we act?

We talk when it is about sharing information or coming up with a plan. For example, it is appropriate to tell your partner if you are going to be home late - that is sharing important information. It is appropriate to discuss what you both want to do on Saturday night, or what movie you might want to see, or if you want to go to the party you were invited to. This talking is about coming up with a plan that affects both of you. However, if one partner gets controlling about the information or the plan, that is when you might want to stop talking and think about what action you need to take for yourself. Any discussion when one partner is controlling will always break down, because the other partner is now trying to get the first person to stop being controlling and open to learning. This kind of talking is what does not work. This is when you need to open to learning about what you are feeling (sad, lonely because you cannot connect with your partner, and helpless over getting him or her to open), acknowledge and compassionately embrace your feelings, accept the loneliness and helplessness over the other person, release the feelings to Spirit, open to learning about the loving action and take the loving action on your own behalf.

Put simply, the time to talk is when both people are truly open to learning and there is no agenda to get the other person to change. The time to take loving action on your own behalf is when you find that you are feeling sad, lonely and helpless over the interaction. That is when you need to remember to move into taking loving care of yourself.

The challenge is in remembering to take loving care of yourself. After all the years of practicing trying to change someone else, it is very challenging to let go of that and remember to take care of yourself. Yet this is what really works!

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