By Maggie Reimherr
I’ve been on a chick lit binge lately. I’m reading every book I can get my hands on from every “beach reads” list from every women’s magazine out there. This morning, I was reading a great one on the train. There was a “will they or won’t they?” love story unfolding, and I was digging it… until the central conflict of the relationship was that they just wouldn’t communicate their feelings to each other.
I am not compelled by communication issues in literature. “Talk about your ish, people! It’s not that hard!” I screamed internally at my book. (I get emotionally invested in fictional characters, okay? There are worse struggles to have.)
...And then I realized that the pot was calling the kettle black. This time 2 years ago, Derek and I were in a place where lack of communication almost cost us our relationship.
He had recently moved to California, and I was still living in Georgia. After a spectacularly bad Labor Day weekend visit, I was ready to call it quits. We had a few conversations about events that ensued over that weekend visit, but by the end of those, he was emotionally exhausted and requested that we close the topic of conversation. But I wasn’t done talking about it or sorting through it.
Instead of talking to him about how I felt, I pushed him away, becoming emotionally distant during our conversations over the next month or so, contemplating the state of our relationship and trying to decide whether or not to move forward on my own. Finally, our communication issues culminated in a conversation in which I confessed, “I’m still really upset. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I’m really struggling with this.”
When I opened up, conversation and feelings poured out. By asking that we not talk about the subject anymore, Derek didn’t mean to silence me. He thought that we’d already exhausted everything we possibly could have discussed. My perspective was different. And because I agreed to stop talking about it, I closed myself off, when I really should have communicated that I still had more to say. The healing began when we started talking.
Having a lapse in communication that almost ended us made us realize that we needed to step up our game. Communication issues are a problem that can touch every part of a relationship if you’re not careful. Letting hurts and problems fester is toxic to relationships. Communication isn’t just about talking though - it’s a two way street. To effectively communicate with your partner, you have to learn to listen. Listening leads to understanding, which leads to more productive conversations.
In our long distance relationship, Derek and I stumbled through serious talks, trying to understand where the other was coming from. The more we talked and the more we listened, the better we became at communicating. Somewhere along the way, things clicked, and now, as a married couple, we are so much better off than we would have been if we hadn’t struggled through that season.
So here’s my advice to you as someone who’s struggled with communication: even when it feels hard, even when you don’t want to, even if you don’t know if it’ll do any good, talk about how you’re feeling with your partner. I promise you, it won’t make matters any worse than they are right now as you’re letting problems bottle up into resentment. And husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, fiances: listen.
Friends, don’t be like the protagonists of the terrible books I read. Talk it out.