Chronic Communication Skill: Before you walk away…

Living with a chronic condition introduces challenges that can leave couples feeling pretty frustrated.  Dividing up the household chores.  Financial concerns that add more undertainty.  Comfortable routines that suddenly get turned upside down.  And when things build up, all that frustration can directed away from solving the problem and toward each other.


How do you know this is happening?  When you or your partner says – or thinks – something like:


“I’ve given up.  He’s won’t listen.”


“I can’t do anything right, so I am not going to try anymore.”


“I’m ready to walk.”


What’s going on at your house?  During those times when you and your partner both feel backed into the corner, what option do you have?  Walk away?  Really?


Sure, in a moment of anger you might think or say something you don’t really mean.  And your partner might as well.  But whether or not you might actually leave, these words are being said as a result of feeling helpless and giving up on finding a common ground.  And all communication stops.


But it doesn’t have to be this way.  When you or your partner has one of those “I’m ready to walk” moments, here’s what to do:


Step out of the story.  Step back and identify the story behind the conflict between you and your partner.  Like the one in which you are always the one who is misunderstood or mistreated, or who has to do all of the work.  Ask yourself if your mind isn’t bending the facts to fit an old story.  Is there another way to look at this?  Try to stay in the moment and not relive a past disappointment.


Be willing to blink first.  Somebody has to start the conversation.  Why not you?  Even if you feel like you are the one who has been wronged, take the first step toward opening the door to communicating.  It can be as simple as: “I know you’re frustrated.  Can we talk about this?”


Hear each other out.    When your emotions are all over the place, it’s hard to listen to what your partner is saying.  Especially if you are still caught up in your own story about what happened.  When you listen, you get the facts.  “I want to hear about how you are feeling.  So you go first.  And then I hope you will listen to me.”


Let everybody be right.  It’s only human nature to break this down into a battle of right versus wrong, and who doesn’t think they’re right?  But do the math.  Two people, two sides to the conflict.  And each side has a point to make.  So it might help to let your partner know you aren’t all about placing blame.  “I’m not trying to make me right and you wrong.  I want us to understand each other.”


Identify the elephant in the room.  When you feel like you’ve hit the wall with your partner, chances are, there’s something going on that you are both aware of but don’t know how to talk about.  Like helplessness or fear. Is it time to stop pretending it’s not there?  Try this: “I know we both wish I didn’t have this diagnosis.  But it’s not going away.  I feel helpless sometimes.  What about you?”


See where you can compromise.  Frustration in a relationship is often based on expectations for how the other person should be feeling or behaving.  Have you actually sat down with your partner and talked about expectations – including what might be realistic and what might not be – and focused on finding a middle road?  To get moving in this direction, you might have to do some more listening.  “It would really help to hear from you what you want me to be doing more of or less of.  And I want to talk to you about my perspective.  Let’s figure out a way to work this out.”


Try some compassion.  Give yourself credit instead of criticism.  You’re doing the best you can in a difficult situation.  And assume your partner is, too. Let yourself be human and you will find it easier to let your partner be human.  And maybe avoid that moment in the future when one of you feels ready to throw in the towel.  “We’re in this together.  Going forward, what can we do to support each other?”


So the next time you feel like walking the walk, how about talking the talk?  You’ve come this far, and there’s so much ahead to look forward to!