Communicating with your partner about your negative feelings can seem overwhleming: here's three steps to make it easier!

 

My partner is a gamer. Has been since the day I met him (at age 15!) and will likely continue to be for the rest of our time together. He likes to come home, plug in, and relax by competing with a team of friends on various gaming platforms. 

In our early days as a couple, I sometimes found myself feeling hurt and rejected by his favorite pasttime. Sometimes I would I passively aggressively try to get him to pay attention to me, usually with a loud and dramatic sigh (younger Summer had a lot to learn about effective communication). I felt rejected and unimportant when I perceived him to be choosing video games over me, and I started to wonder if I wasn't enough for him. Was I not pretty enough, sexy enough, or interesting enough? Why other reason could he possibly for choosing to hang out with his friends and play games instead of lavish attention on me?

 

When I was finally adult enough to be direct with him about my feelings, our conversations about the issue illuminated something for me: his gaming hobby was NOT. ABOUT. ME.

It sounds simple, but it was news to me!  Now, I often find myself sharing that same message with the couples I work with - sometimes what is going on with your partner has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your partner's own emotions, desires, and needs. 

 

Before you personalize something, take a minute to look for a different perspective - what other reasons could your partner have to be engaging in this behavior that aren't about you? I encourage you to spend some time questioning the negative emotions and thoughts that pop up around your relationship. Which of those are based in evidence and which of those might be extrapolations you've made on your own? 

 

All partners have unique needs and desires. Discovering what those needs are and then treating them with honor and respect can lead couples towards a more compassionate and peaceful relationship.

 

You can help to strengthen your relationship with your partner by being direct about your own needs and desires. 

 

Here's a three stop process I like to use to approach these tough conversations. 

 

Start with a gentle observation based on facts

 

"Hey, I noticed that when I got home from work today you were pretty engrossed in your game."

 

Follow this up with a clear description of your own emotions, desires, or needs

 

"I feel kind of lonely when I get home and you're already busy on your computer. I would like to spend a little time with you after work telling you about my day and hearing about yours."

 

Lastly, make a reasonable and clear request

 

"Can we try setting aside some time tomorrow after work for us to spend together? Maybe I can text you when I'm on my way home to give you some time to close out with what you're doing." 

 

This is SO much more effective than passive aggressive behavior! By being direct, open, and honest, you give your partner a much better change of actually hearing you and meeting your needs. Next time you notice a negative reaction about your relationship, try communicating what you Observe, Feel, and Request and see where it gets you. 

 

 

Setting healthy boundaries can increase self esteem and improve relationships.

All people struggle in their relationships at one time or another. Maybe you have a difficult coworker, boss, or client. Or you could be at your wits ends with your in-laws and their demands or expectations. Perhaps you’re trying to figure out how, or if, to maintain your connection to a difficult parent.

 

As a therapist, I hear stories like these all the time. And while it can release some of the pressure to simply vent about these difficult people, I consistently bring my clients back to the same thought:

 

No matter how much you vent, how passive aggressive you act, or how confrontational you get, you cannot change another person.

 

“But Summer,” my clients say, “isn’t that thing they did just awful? Can you believe they said that? They need to grow up and treat me better!”

 

That’s when I introduce boundaries.

 

Boundariestell other people how they can treat you -- what’s acceptable and what isn’t." There are many different types of boundaries. For example, boundaries can be:

  • Logistical (“I will not respond to my father-in-law’s text messages after 8 pm”)

  • Physical (“I am the only person in the house who can use my yoga mat”)

  • Mental (“I will only think about financial stresses on these days at these times”)

  • Emotional (“I am allowed to take a mental health day off of work”)

Developing purposeful and realistic boundaries can not only help you in your relationships, it can also help you to understand who you are and what you want at a deeper level. In fact, “healthy boundaries can also serve to establish one’s identity, as well as what one is responsible for.”

Here are some examples of generalized boundary statements that I personally reflect on daily.

  1. It is not my job to fix others.

  2. It is okay to say no.

  3. It is my job to make me happy.

  4. Nobody has to agree with me.

  5. I have a right to my own feelings.

Remember that boundaries should be firm, but not fixed. Check in with yourself or your therapist regularly about which boundaries are working for you and which could be changed. Trust yourself to recognize when a boundary has been crossed and to learn from the experience.

 

Give yourself time to learn and use boundaries. It’s not about being perfect - it’s about evolving and creating a life that you want to live!