Here’s a riddle for you – what do Pope Francis and Dr. Phil have in common?
Answer: They’ve both been quoted recently talking about the importance of couples in relationships addressing and resolving problematic issues at the time that they arise. Both men encouraged couples to deal quickly with the problems and frictions that inevitably arise in relationships.
Pope Francis advises, “… never let a day go by without restoring peace to your home.” (from his 2014 Valentine’s Day speech to engaged couples)
Dr. Phil (Phil McGraw, Ph.D., in an article for USA Weekend, 2/9/14) says that he and his wife agreed, even while dating, that they would, “… handle things as they came up before they got big… We’ve never let problems build up and then had a big blow-up.”
People have many different reasons for not addressing things as they occur. Sometimes it’s a (misguided) belief that the incident is too small to be worth talking about. While it can be useful “not to sweat the small stuff”, lots of “small stuff” tends to accumulate and become big stuff. You don’t have to be mortally wounded by something your partner did or said, or failed to do or say, for it to be worthy of discussion. If you talk about it while it’s small, it can be addressed, resolved, and disposed of with a minimum of fuss and emotion. If it sits and festers, or if it accumulates with multiple repetitions, it becomes big and painful. Now the emotion will be high and the relationship impact greater. What started out as a paper cut has now become a deep laceration requiring a lot more repair work to be healed.
Sometimes people hold off bringing up an issue because it feels TOO important. There may be a fear that you and your partner can’t come to a satisfactory resolution of something you consider really important. A partner can be so anxious that this could happen and that it could destabilize the relationship that it feels safer not to talk about it. The problem here of course is that problems of this importance won’t just go away and never return. Not talking about it is a short term way of avoiding a long term issue that is bound to show up again. Talking about it while it’s here and now can keep it from becoming a bigger issue later, when emotions may run much higher because of the delay. Trust your partner to join you in working to find a resolution that serves both of you and the relationship.
Sometimes people refrain from addressing things in the hope that the partner will mystically intuit the need for something to be talked about or fixed. This is a way to effectively double your disappointment. First was the disappointment of the problematic issue that occurred. And now you’ve added on the disappointment of your partner failing to be a mind-reader. It’s disrespectful of your partner and of your relationship to play with this kind of fantasy. Act like a responsible adult and be the one to initiate the necessary conversation. Wouldn’t you want to be treated with the same kind of respect?
Sometimes people don’t address things in a timely way because they’re afraid that they’ll look like complainers, fault-finders, or whiners. So they just keep sucking up the offense, anxiety, wound, or outrage. At the outset they may look easygoing and chill. As time goes by things tend to evolve in one of two ways – either the silent person eventually erupts in rage fueled by many accumulated events or that person eventually grows cold and hard toward the partner and the relationship. Neither outcome is a winner. Don’t believe that the only way to address an issue is negatively. The best and most effective way to address a problematic issue is to use “I statements” that express YOUR feeling or need without the accusatory attitude of a “you statement”. For example, a good “I statement” would be something like, “I get worried when I don’t hear from you and you’re much later than usual getting home.” This is in contrast to an accusatory “you statement” like, “You are so inconsiderate. Why can’t you call?!”
So, follow Dr. Phil’s and Pope Francis’s advice – bring peace to your home by dealing with things right away while they’re small and manageable. Let each day come to a peaceful close after open and meaningful communication that has shown respect, trust, and affection.