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5 min read

My Partner Doesn't Want To Talk About Problems: 5 Things You Can Try

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Key Takeaways:

  • Relationships often take work, especially in regards to communication.
  • A communication blockage, particularly in regards to conflict, can cause strain in the partnership.
  • Changing your communication style and going to couples therapy are both great ways to make progress.

There are many common problems that every relationship will experience at some point. Perhaps the most pervasive and frustrating is a communication blockage.

Communication is foundational to a healthy relationship. Without communication, especially about problems, tension, or conflict, a relationship not only cannot grow but cannot be maintained either.

This article should serve as a guide for a specific situation, albeit a very common one: one partner is ready and willing to talk about the problems in the relationship, but the other partner is avoiding it.

There are a few reasons why this happens, and we're going to cover tips for addressing each one. By the time you're finished reading, you should have at least one new method you can use to prepare your partner for important conversations.

Skip to a tip for opening up a dialogue in your relationship:

#1: Try a Different Communication Style

#2: Demonstrate a Level Playing Field

#3: Lighten Up

#4: Schedule Time

#5: Suggest Couples Therapy

#1: Try a Different Communication Style

One of the most common and most subtle reasons that one partner may not be ready to address conflict in the relationship is that they simply have a different preferred communication style.

The Problem

Every conversation communicates two layers of information: direct and indirect. Two people may communicate the direct information identically, but the indirect information may be different depending on each person’s style of communication.

For example, imagine that your preferred style of communication is direct and instantly honest.

When there is conflict or tension, you bring it up immediately and state things as you see them with little to no preparation.

This is a valid communication style and often one of the most effective for addressing and resolving conflict.

However, imagine now that your partner prefers a gentler approach to talking about problems. They want to lay a foundation of positivity and collaboration before talking about any conflict.

You can probably sense how they would feel (in this hypothetical example) if you told them bluntly and abruptly that you don't like the way they leave their shoes in the middle of the floor.

As the person who prefers direct communication, all you intend is to get the problem sorted.

But for the partner who prefers a gentler approach, they may assume a number of indirect connotations about the exchange:

  • They may assume they are being attacked about their cleanliness and hygiene in general
  • They may assume you respect them less for leaving their shoes out
  • They may assume that this conflict is a fight, rather than a simple discussion

Even though none of these things may be true, in future conflicts, they may clam up and try to avoid the situation in order to prevent what they perceive to be an attack.

The Solution

If you feel this may be the reason your partner doesn't want to talk about problems in the relationship, try switching up your communication style.

In the example above, that would mean starting the conversation with a neutral but productive tone.

Instead of saying:

"I really don't like your shoes being left wherever you take them off."

Try:

"Can I make a request? If you put your shoes on the rack, it makes it easier for me to vacuum and prevents anyone from tripping on them."

Even though both of those sentences communicate the exact same direct information ("Put your shoes on the rack where they belong"), saying in the second way provides a little more context and reduces the likelihood that your partner assumes something you don’t mean.

#2: Demonstrate a Level Playing Field

Another common reason for a communication blockage in a relationship is that one partner feels as though they are bound by some relationship dynamic to comply with any request.

The Problem

Even if it's not real, it's very easy for any of us to assume some sort of power dynamic in a relationship.

For example, most people want to keep their partner happy. However, sometimes this may mean they feel pressured to comply with any request their partner makes, even at the expense of their own happiness. That constitutes an assumed power dynamic that can be asymmetrical, meaning one partner assumes it more than the other.

After this dynamic builds, one partner may begin to feel anxious at any sort of conflict, since to them it means compromising on something that they enjoy or care about.

The Solution

If you feel this may be the reason for your relationship's communication blockage, there are two things you can try, in the context of our example above:

  • Demonstrate your own compromise - Explain that you are not perfect when it comes to decluttering either, and, for example, commit to putting your dishes away in a more timely manner.
  • Emphasize the request’s benefit to them as well as you - For example, putting their shoes away isn't just for your benefit. It also makes them easier to find and stops the dog from chewing them up.

Both of these level the playing field by, respectively, demonstrating your own areas for improvement and showing them that while they are helping you, they are also helping themselves.

Book a Couples Therapy Session in Austin Today

 

#3: Lighten Up

Note: This tip should only be used for problems or conflicts that are not serious - like simple requests about the way chores are done. Be sure you don’t ignore the severity of more serious relationship problems.

The Problem

Some people are naturally conflict avoidant. Others had to learn conflict avoidance to survive a problematic household.

Regardless of the reason, many people have trouble talking about serious topics in general. In the context of a relationship, where so much is at stake, partners often close up at the thought of having a serious discussion.

When they are ready, this is something they should address in therapy and begin to work on. Severe conflict avoidance can be very detrimental to their mental health.

But in the meantime, lightening up the conversation can at least help you make progress on things that aren't dangerously serious (like leaving their shoes in the middle of the floor.)

The Solution

Assuming the issue in question isn't something drastically serious - for example, infidelity or the death of a loved one - you can bring up the problem in a light-hearted way.

Keep your tone humorous and poke fun at the situation in general. You may find that your partner is more receptive to discussion if it's in the context of humor.

This is not a way to ignore the fact that there is a problem. Humor communicates many things that people often need in order to start talking:

  • Humor communicates and reinforces compatibility, showing your partner that they don't need to worry about those things during discussion.
  • Humor also demonstrates love and friendliness, which soothes your partner's nervousness that you're angry or resentful.
  • Humor diffuses tension, which can help you dig into the conflict with someone who hates tension.

Be careful with this tool: too much of it and your partner won't take the request seriously. Use it to start the conversation, but ensure the message still gets through.

humor can be used to diffuse and then address conflict

#4: Schedule Time

It's possible that your partner doesn't like to multitask. This often extends to mental energy as well.

The Problem

If you try to bring up problems when your partner is preoccupied with work or school, for example, it will be very difficult for them to devote the mental energy to actually resolving them.

Talking about conflict requires a lot of attention, and if your partner's attention is being divided because they need to do chores or catch up on work, it can be a non-starter.

The Solution

Set aside some time for a discussion so that your partner can compartmentalize their mental energy and, when the time comes, give you their undivided attention.

Not only does this make it easier to get the conversation started, but it can also make the conversation more productive.

#5: Suggest Couples Therapy

While the tips above can help your partner talk about problems, they're often not enough.

Couples therapy with a licensed professional is the only way to get professional insight into your relationship and really discover what makes it, and your partner, tick.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level couples therapists is on-hand to help you and your partner talk productively about the conflicts in your relationship.

Schedule an appointment today or give us a call to find the right therapist for you. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Couples Therapy Session in Austin Today

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