Tackling the Big Issues: Relationship Icebergs
Often couples argue about, and break up over, things that might seem trivial to those outside the relationship. Did they really break up over a dog? In-laws? Which school to send their kids to? It may seem unfathomable, or even unreasonable, that someone would choose to break up a home over something so “small” and seemingly easy to resolve. However, it is usually because those little things are markers of much deeper issues that have gone unresolved over the course of the relationship. It might have been just the tip of the iceberg of fundamental differences in the way the couple views the relationship and an inability to talk about those issues in a constructive way.
The first stages of falling and being in love are a wonderful haze of physiological stimuli that enables both partners to see only the best in their mate. Sometimes fundamental differences or even big waving red flags are ignored as endorphins are screaming “love conquers all”. And it does! For a bit anyway. Then life comes along and the couple starts to notice those differences or those little red flags and conflicts start to arise. They then sometimes realize that they never really discussed the fundamental issues that are important to the longevity of a relationship. However, here they are committed to each other; maybe even with a house, a family, and a life together. The stakes are high now; and when stakes are high, conflict can seem very scary.
Sometimes couples will try to avoid talking about the big issues in order to avoid what seems like inevitable conflict. It may seem easier to choose not to “rock the boat” and instead to avoid talking about anything that might lead to conflict. The problem with that approach is that the issues don’t go away. Instead they build and grow under the surface until something seemingly innocuous, like the tip of the iceberg, sinks the relationship. Avoidance is never the key to a STRONG relationship, but the idea of starting a conversation with your partner that will end in conflict probably doesn’t sound fun either!
This stalemate is one that many couples find themselves in, and it can lead to feelings of sadness, disconnection, and dissatisfaction. If you cannot express yourself and your needs in your relationship, how can you maintain a deep connection with someone who is supposed to be your best friend and partner? In any real relationship, whether it be a friendship or romantic relationship, if you are hiding parts of yourself it loses its’ authenticity. Part of feeling truly connected to someone is feeling that you can be yourself, without hiding or pretending, and that the other person accepts you fully for who you are.
If you recognize that you and your partner may be at a stalemate in your relationship or that you have been avoiding the big issues, know that it’s never too late to begin the conversation. Taking the first step to connect with your partner on the issues that are important to you may seem daunting, but tackling the small issues now before they become big ones will be important to you both in the long run. As always, reach out for help if you need it and engage the support of a trained counselor to guide you both back to authentic connection.
-This is Part 3 in a series on Conflict and Communication in Marriage for October 2016-
Kristal DeSantis, M.A., LMFT-A, is the founder of Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center in Austin, TX
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