I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for three years and we are engaged.
The problem is that my love believes it is both normal and appropriate to walk away from any conversation in which she does not want to participate. She becomes irritable out of nowhere and offers no reason for her feelings. When I try to speak to her, she will leave and refuse to speak; she asserts that she will end the relationship rather than discuss what’s going on with her. This happens even with something as simple as a conversation about buying groceries. This doesn’t happen just occasionally, it’s 99% of the time.
We are a couple and this type of behavior is not beneficial to anyone. I understand the concept of walking away from a potentially volatile argument to take a break from the conversation. However, that assumes it gets to that point. I feel resentful that it’s affecting my life and state of mind. I believe she is trying to demonstrate control over the situation.
Is the following type of action really warranted and acceptable?
I call my love and get a text message:
Her: I’m not answering.
Me: I just want to ask about dinner, and say goodnight. Why are you being like this to me? I’ve done nothing wrong. You were happy all day. You called me and said we could talk after work. You got off work at 4pm and now it’s midnight. I have appointments at 9am and I’m tired.
Her: No, I’m not happy. I told you I went out to dinner with the boys.
Me: I can tell you aren’t happy. I care about you and I’d like you to express yourself with me. The moment I try to have a conversation, you are suddenly upset and don’t want to talk. I’ve not had a chance to say anything yet, so how could you possibly be mad at me?
Her: I’ve replied. So leave me alone.
Me: Can you please tell me what’s bothering you? What we are doing really sucks for both of us. It hurts, my love, and I know you are upset about something. I didn’t even start this conversation to discuss this, but now it’s a priority, so what is going on?
Her: Don’t care, bye
Me: Let me be here for you and talk, you should care. We are getting married.
Her: I’m gone
As punishment for my attempt at healthy communication with her, she sometimes won’t speak to me for days at a time. I care about her and want the best for us, but I’m having a great deal of difficulty coping with this. What can I do? I can’t spend the rest of my life battling to have the right, as a couple, to make decisions or be informed.
As I’m sure you know, effective communication is key to a healthy relationship. In fact, it’s one of the top five issues that are important for couples. From what you wrote, it seems like you two have great difficulty figuring out what the other wants, and making decisions together. And this is before you have to deal with some of life’s major decisions, like the difficulties that arise from living together, having children, workplace issues and others things that can come up after marriage.
You are correct in that it is acceptable, sometimes even necessary, for couples to take a break when the conversation gets too heated or someone is upset. However, it doesn’t sound like that is what is happening. Relationships take work, and effective conversational skills are vital to success. These include engaging in difficult dialogues and listening to the other partner’s feelings. When these conversational skills are not being used, it can lead to resentment and other negative feelings. This is especially true when one person punishes the other by giving them the silent treatment, because that is unproductive and manipulative.
Effective communication is a two-way street, though, and there are a few things you can do to improve your conversational skills. Many people take it upon themselves to figure out what is going on with the other person. They ask, beg, and plead to be told what is wrong instead of letting their conversation partner provide whatever information they want the other to know. This leads to a pursuer/distancer situation in which one partner runs toward, while the other partner runs away. Consequently, one way in which to cut down on the frustration of this conversational gambit is to take whatever your partner says at their word. For example, in the above text conversation, when she replied that she wasn’t answering, you could have said “OK” and moved on with your evening.
Another conversational skill is to take control of what you want to say. So, instead of letting your conversational partner dictate what you discuss, briefly make known your wishes and then stop talking. In this way, you get across your thoughts clearly and concisely. If your partner wants to respond, it is up to her. For example, in the above conversation, you could have said, “I wanted to ask about your day but since you don’t want to talk right now, I’ll just say goodnight.” Once you change your way of communicating, you may find that she changes hers. If she doesn’t, you may need to consider how much of that you’ll be willing to accept in the long-term.
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