Talking about Relationship Problems: Do’s and Don’ts for a Better Marriage

The way you talk about relationship problems makes a huge difference. If your talking often evolves into conflicts, you will want to learn these rules for relationship success.

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How does it usually go when you and your spouse talk about relationship problems?

It is not communication per se that builds relationships. Rather it is both the way the we talk about things and how much the other person enjoys what we are talking about. Just trying to get your spouse to talk to you more doesn’t mean the talking is going to build your relationship.

If you talk in the wrong way or about the wrong thing, you may undermine your relationship. On the other hand, talking in the right way can lead to the emotional intimacy that may be missing in your relationship.

Talking about relationship problems requires a little more forethought. Done the right way, it can also create greater connection. Let’s consider some of the variables for talking about relationship problems.

Is your spouse motivated to have a closer relationship with you?

Just because you want a closer relationship doesn’t mean your spouse wants to. This is particularly true if your spouse wants to separate or divorce. Whenever we talk about getting something the other person does not want, we will have conflict. That will make our relationship even worse.

Before working with me, many clients were repeatedly talking about their relationship and making it worse. There is a time to talk about problems, but it is not until the relationship is much improved. It is the sixth step in how to save your marriage. Before that, it will be necessary to re-interest your spouse in you. Attracting and connecting come before working on problems.

Being too eager to talk about problems will just bring conflict. The conversation will deteriorate in arguments and create even more distance in your relationship. If you take your spouse to marriage counseling in this situation, it will actually make your relationship worse. Counselors focus on problems and differences. Doing that when your spouse is not interested in your marriage will lead to separation and divorce.

Rule #1: Talking about relationship problems when your spouse doesn’t want what you want brings conflict

This rule is a good guide to when to get marriage coaching. Marriage coaching is for working on relationship improvement when both people want the same outcome. When your spouse wants something different from you (like ending your relationship), you are better off working with a coach, on your own, to re-attract and re-connect with your spouse.

Does your spouse want the same outcome as you (a sex example)?

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Even if your relationship is important to your spouse, he or she may not want the same level of intimacy as you.

Imagine that you would like to have more sex with your spouse. Before deciding whether to talk about this with your spouse, you must first ask yourself:

  • If your spouse would like to have more sex with you,
  • what reaction your spouse will have to your talking about it
  • will talking about it make your spouse desire it more or less?

If you think your spouse would like to have more sex with you, then be all means bring it up. But if you don’t think so, then it is time to consider other ways to to interest your spouse in having more sex with you. This is similar to interesting your spouse in your relationship before talking about building your relationship.

Rule 2: talking about relationship problems only works if your spouse also wants what you do

If you would like to have more sex with your spouse, AND you think your spouse would also like to have more sex with you, then this is a great topic of discussion. Your spouse will be motivated to come up with ways that you two can have more and better sex.

Bring up the topic, but not as a criticism or a complaint:

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Always make problems about the both of you and not something that is the fault of your spouse. Be sure to express your desire in a way that makes your spouse feel desired or important.

For example:

You:  I was thinking that we don’t have sex as much as we used to. I miss that.

Spouse:  Yeah, me too.

You:  Let’s talk about how we could have even more and better sex because I sure want to have more sex with you.

Spouse: Yeah, me too.

Here you see one spouse leading and the other following, which is fine. Often one spouse is more communicative than the other. But, as long as you have agreement, it doesn’t matter if a lot is said.

You can then follow up with brainstorming–coming up with some actions that will result in the both of you getting more of what you want.

Talking about relationship problems (financial example)

Let’s suppose that your spouse is overspending. Do you think this would be a good thing to talk to your spouse about? The answer is going to be “no,” unless you believe that your spouse also thinks he or she is overspending. Most likely that won’t be the case.  So, if you talk about overspending, your spouse will become defensive. Not only will the overspending not be resolved, your relationship will also become worse.

Negative example:

You:  Honey, I want to talk with you about how you sometimes overspend a little.

Spouse:  I only buy what is necessary. You are the one who buys things we don’t need.

You:  Well, what about those new shoes you bought when you already have 10 pairs?

Spouse:  So, you think I’m not smart enough to know how many shoes I have or if I need more?  What about that new lawn mower attachment you bought? You have managed to mow the last 10 years without it. Why do you need to buy that now?

You may end up with some temporary change with such an argument, but it won’t last. However, the damage it does to your relationship will last because your partner will be resentful while making temporary change. Then, you will become resentful when things once again go back to the way they were.

Rule 3: Argument creates temporary change, but lasting damage.

Q: “So, what do I do when I want things to change, but my spouse doesn’t?”

Since talking is actually damaging in such a situation, you must do something other than talk about it. This leads to rule number two:

Rule #4:  There is ALWAYS something that can be done about a problem other than talking about it.

The mistake many people make in this situation is to say and do nothing. This reduces conflict, but will lead to your becoming more resentful or disappointed with your relationship. The solution is to take action without talking about it with your spouse first.

For the financial example above, one idea would be to create a budget. Budgets allow people to have allowances that they can spend as they want. The key is to make sure that husband and wife get the same allowance. There are other ways to talk about financial issues that are much better than fighting about them.

Do you have a problem with your relationship that it’s not helping to talk about?

If so, then it is time to do two things:

  1. figure out what you and your spouse do agree needs to be changed, and
  2. figure out what you can do about things that your spouse does not agree needs to be changed.

I wrote my book, What to Do When He Won’t Change, to help women, who feel hopeless, to improve their relationships. This is especially helpful for women who only get conflict or distance when they try to talk to their husbands about relationship problems.

I wrote my book, Connecting though “Yes!” to help both men and women to find common ground for relationship improvement, no matter what their situation. Without common ground, we can have conflict, but not conflict resolution.

Building your relationship when your spouse wants to end your relationship

This is something I help clients with all the time. People who use pursuit behavior, reasoning, arguing, or pleading with a spouse who wants out only make their relationships worse. My Re-connections Coaching Package is not for couples. It is to help you to create more desire in your spouse for you. Only after that happens will your spouse care about your relationship.

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