The key to solving these problems is that both you and the other person need to be willing to work on whatever bone is stuck in your relationship’s craw. And in order to do that, you have to give the other person a chance to help you fix it. But they can’t help you fix it if they don’t know exactly why you’re not happy in the first place.
It’s no secret that healthy communication is crucial for any relationship, but it’s still an underdeveloped skill for a lot of people.2 So when it comes to communicating your grievances in a relationship, here are a couple of rules to follow:3
1. Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.
Relationships have a way of making us see everything in very personal terms. We draw these conclusions about our partner’s character based on their behavior and then personalize it by trying to figure out what it means for us. This is a natural thing to do,4 but it can get us into trouble when our interpretations of someone’s behavior lead us to attack their character.5
A lot of times, your partner’s intentions aren’t as clear-cut as you see them and/or they don’t even know there’s something wrong. That’s why it’s critical that you focus specifically on the problem at hand and hold back any judgments or attacks on their character.6 As soon as you start attacking someone personally, things spin out of control quickly and it’s really hard to have a productive conversation that addresses the real conflict.7
It’s best to just stick to what’s bothering you and what you can both do about it. Leave personal insults out of it.
2. Ditch the “Relationship Scorecard.”
Related to the above point, it almost never really matters whose fault it is. There are always two sides of any relationship problem. Even if lying and cheating were involved, chances are the liar/cheater was not happy about a lot of things that drove them to do that.
Yes, one person might be more responsible than the other for current problems in a relationship, but pointing that out just to win “points” is hardly going to make things better.
Leave the scorecard behind. Don’t bring up past issues when trying to solve current issues. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t “tally” up who was the bigger asshole. Because a) it doesn’t matter, and b) you’re never going to tally things up in such a way that you lose. That’s just how our brains work. We always think we’re right, even when we’re not. So leave the scorecard at home and focus on listening.8
So at this point, if you’ve identified the real problem and you’ve communicated it to them in a healthy, mature way and they’re on board to work on it with you, then great—I say stick with it and see if you can work things out.
A lot of people give up too easily at this point. The fact is that all relationships have their ups and downs, but someone who’s worth staying with is someone who’s willing to work on issues together with you, even when you’re truly pissing each other off.
But if they’re only half-assing it and not really on board to address issues that are important to you, well then, it’s time to enforce some boundaries.