Developing helpful conversations with partners

Here’s my first Full Perspective response to one of your questions. (Find out how to get involved below)

“How do you manage to have proper helpful conversations with your partner about things that need to be addressed (chores, problems in the couple…) without things becoming too heated and turning again into a conflict – during which you were indeed mature enough to say “Let’s talk about it later, once the anger is gone”?”

Argh! If I knew the full solution to this – I’d be a millionaire! I hear you.

Here’s a few things that might help, but knowing I still don’t know what the perfect solution is to all of this. We’ve been married for 20 years and whilst we are 100 times better than we were (especially after having kids and a nervous breakdown for me)… there’s no such thing as perfect. I don’t believe any couple is perfect or there is a perfect solution to any of this.

Anyhow…. Here’s some things that MAY help.

Mental load – Managing vs Division

Are you ‘managing’ the load or are you properly ‘dividing’ responsibilities and tasks.

If you are the manager, then that means you generally keep a list of the jobs in your head and then you start getting frustrated when things aren’t done or aren’t done up to the standard or in the timeframe you would do them. What that will mean often is you’ll end up picking up the slack.

If you’re dividing tasks then you sit down as adults, you organise roles and responsibilities. If he doesn’t do the roles then he deals with the consequences.

Illustrated: you expect your partner to tidy up the kitchen at night. He doesn’t do it.

Manager model – You then get frustrated and end up doing it anyhow at 10pm (possibly throwing in a toddler tantrum in the mix).

Division model – You leave the dishes and continue to leave the dishes and let him deal with any of the consequences around it.

The issue why the ‘division’ model is really tough is that often as women we have beliefs about roles and what it means to be a ‘good’ wife/mum, fear of judgement from others etc. That means we can get activated. If we have kids it’s even worse between routines and schedules and all the things to organise. We can then end up as martyrs doing everything ‘I have so much to do’.

Martyrs are generally not nice people to be around. I was one. Frustrated, angry, resentful, ‘it’s not fair’.

Whilst men also have belief systems about roles, often it’s very different.

Suggestion would be to work out where you can ‘divide’ roles and then do not pick up the slack (obviously if your partner breaks their arm… you might want to re-think this – but you get what I mean).

Starting conversations

Rather than starting conversations when either one of you is ‘activated’ (ie angry), my suggestion would be to let it pass and then organise a time when you can both sit down. Rather than pointing out things like ‘I hate it when you don’t….’ Or (my favourite) ‘you always (insert moan)’… you could possibly start the conversation along the lines of – There feels like there’s a lot of pressure on both of us. Can we have a discussion about all the things we both need/want to do so we can work out what will help both of us going forward.

Protectors

When you feel under ‘threat’ – you have these things called ‘protectors’ that get activated as a way to protect parts of you from being in pain. These protectors often don’t behave in ways that are rational, mature, that can listen or communicate easily. They will often be very child like in the way that they act like toddlers or teenagers. I know I have a toddler protector that comes out when I feel under threat and a 6 year old that comes out when I feel abandoned and a teenager when I’m feeling trapped. It’s taken me a long time to develop this understanding.

When things are heated between you and your partner, it’s the protectors from both of you that are communicating and when protectors are up you’re both likely to be acting like teenagers or toddlers.

What you want to be communicating with is the ‘self’ rather than a protector. That’s for both of you.

One way can be to ask the person what they need to help them manage a difficult conversation so that the protector isn’t activated or when it’s soothed.

It could be along the lines of ‘I want to have a conversation with you about something, and I’m aware it might upset you. What would help make it easier?’

It could be for example, they need to know that you love them, that you want to work out a better strategy, that you’re looking for solutions rather than blame etc.

And check your protectors are also being looked after too.

Clarify expectations

Get clarity on expectations – what is it you expect from each other? Do you expect things to be done in a certain way/time line? Where can you lower your expectations? Accept each other forth you are.

Establish boundaries

Boundaries – when people think about boundaries, it feels aggressive and uncomfortable. Boundaries are often taught like ‘assertiveness’ and feel uncomfortable as we’ve been conditioned as women to constantly care take and meet everyone else’s needs.

Boundaries don’t need to be like that. You can establish gentle and loving boundaries.

My recommendation would be to establish boundaries in areas of your life about what you take on so you’re not feeling angry and resentful.

Here’s an example. In my programme Motherhood Unloaded we have spoken so many times about the moment a women develops a relationship with a man, she starts taking on all his responsibilities such as buying his clothes, buying gifts for his mum, remembering his second cousin’s birthday. My advice is DON’T do it. If you would never expect your partner to do these things for you – do not do them for him. This is not the 1950s.

This isn’t just related to ‘buying’ but all the things you end up just taking on. And the crazy thing is 99% of the time, our partners have NEVER asked us to do this. I don’t blame my husband. I blame society’s conditioning.

You can set up boundaries in all sorts of places from the home, friends, finances etc

Meet your needs

Are you meeting your needs and feeling fulfilled and happy in yourself? Does your partner have the opportunity to do things that meet their needs? When both of you are able to have your needs met then life is easier for both of you and relationships will often flourish.

The 5 need pillars that I use are:

  • The need for love and connection (that means a sense of belonging, community, support)
  • The need for fun (that means doing things that bring a smile to your face and joy)
  • The need for freedom and autonomy (that might mean the freedom to do what you want)
  • The need to meet your basic needs (that might mean sleep, eat, hydrate, exercise, sex – some might fall into the fun category)
  • The need for recognition (that might mean material things or someone to recognise you’re great at your job or being a good mum)

Identify what your needs are (which takes time/is a constant work in progress) and then things generally get easier.

Love languages

If you don’t know about love languages then google it and take the test. Ideally if you’re feeling really brave take the test together. The theory is that we all have a love language or some love languages are stronger. The five love languages (from memory) are touch, gifts, acts of service, time, words of acknowledgement. When you can identify yours and identify your partners, you can then meet their love language. You can generally tell someone’s love language by what they give you. The issue often is our love languages are very different.

This is also a brilliant way to work with friends, colleagues, parents, your children and everyone you come into contact. It’s a very powerful approach.

I hope this is helpful and gives you some good pointers to get started.

If you’d like to get a question answered in the Full Perspective – then head here.

Much love, Tricia xxx


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