Living with someone can be tricky at the best of times but the current lockdown is throwing difficulties into sharp relief! That’s because however much you love your husband/wife/partner, when they start doing something that irritates you, that’s all you notice. Even relatively small things can become super-significant and, if you’re not careful, it’s downhill from there!!
That’s because, having become aware of them being irritating once, you’ll notice it the next time they do it and again and again, until all you can think about is the unreasonableness of them doing it at all.
I wish I’d been able to have this conversation when, 30 years ago, I was in this position. I’d married quite young and my husband was everything I’d ever wanted. But something left me no option, or so I thought, but to leave. I’ve spent many, many years questioning whether there could have been a way of saving the relationship, but I had no-one to talk it over with who was objective and wiser than me. So, I left my marriage and the life I might have had.
Deciding to leave was the right thing for me to do at the time, and it might be the very best thing for you now, but there might also be a way of making it work. The question is how do you decide, how do you know and how do you make the decision?
NB: If it’s abuse or violence or anything that makes you feel unsafe, stop reading this and phone the police or the relevant people now. No-one should have to put up with that.
When someone comes to me with a relationship problem it’s usually a conversation about the other person; how they do this or that and how awful it is. Let’s say they sing in a choir and spend every waking minute doing it, which makes you increasingly resentful. Is the problem really about them singing in the choir or that you feel resentful when they do?
There was an example of this the other day when Tom Daley’s husband was complaining that Tom knits all the time. Yes, you can be usurped by a hobby!
A good question for you to ask yourself would be ‘What is it about him/her being in the choir that’s causing a problem? Because it could be anything – you might be lonely, cross, feel he/she prefers other people etc.
Another good question is ‘What does that [behaviour] mean to you?’ If you believe being in a relationship means spending time with your partner – and your partner keeps on going out – you might take that as a sign that your relationship isn’t important to him/her; which means that. . .??
Separate your reaction from what your partner’s actually doing. Sometimes they have no idea that it’s causing a problem and it’s not unknown that once you make them aware, they’re only too willing to change.
Who can you talk to, who won’t just agree with everything you say? ‘My husband/wife spends all their time with the choir and now we’re in Lockdown it’s worse because they meet online.’ Supporter says: ‘oh I know, that’s dreadful, it’s really selfish of him/her. . .’ Not useful. You really need someone sensible who can ask questions and offer a neutral opinion.
What’s causing your partner to think it’s ok to be so absorbed in something else? What would they have to do instead to make it ok?
In our example, I might also ask how much less [choir-time] would be ok? Often the answer is, ‘It’s not about that – the problem is that there’s no time for us!’. The root cause of which could be many things; some in you and some in them. Find what’s missing, put it back, [time for us] and you might find the problem goes away.
The most important thing is to let them know that all’s not well. Often, it’s a complete surprise and HOW you tell them makes a difference.
There are certain words to leave out of the conversation, such as ‘YOU’ and ‘BUT’. ‘YOU’ makes it very personal and can lead to them becoming defensive: ‘You spend all your time fishing’, ‘Oh I’m not allowed to enjoy myself anymore!’. ‘BUT’ negates whatever you’ve just said. Imagine someone saying ‘I saw you in that red dress yesterday but. . .’. Speak about the problem itself and in the third person and it will go better.
You can’t change another person, and we have to assume that they think it’s ok to do what they’re doing. The main thing is, do you still like your partner and can you see a future with them? If the answer is YES, it’s worth going through the process to work out what the problem really is and, together, find a solution.