Recently, my boyfriend and I had a situation that we needed to resolve. We’d been talking about this situation for weeks, and frankly, I was completely exhausted. We were both saying the same things over and over again.
The worst part? We both wanted the same end result. It was just that we didn’t agree on how to get there.
I had reached a point where I really felt like he wasn’t hearing me (and in fairness, he probably felt the same about me), but the problem was that I wasn’t sure if that was because I wasn’t being clear enough or if I was being unreasonable in my perspective.
So I asked my dear friend for some advice.
A Tale of Two Relationships
Before I tell you what she said, let me tell you about another boyfriend. I dated a truck driver for about a year and a half. I say dated, but we were actually living together – well, as much as you can live together when someone is gone most of the month. Anyway, every time we’d have a fight, he would tell all his friends on social media about it.
And when I broke up with him? Let me tell you, he acted like a complete lunatic with the things he posted on social media about me. And I was so hurt and angry that I responded when I shouldn’t have, so all of our dirty laundry ended up all over the place for every one of our family and friends to see.
It was humiliating for me, awkward for my family and friends, and something I vowed would never happen again.
So in my current relationship, I’m very careful what I say. I respect my boyfriend, his privacy and our relationship too much to tell the world bad things about him just because I’m mad at him for a moment. It’s also why I don’t tell you his name, or get super detailed when I mention that we had an “issue” or a “situation.” I want to share things with you that will help you, that you can relate to, but I also need to keep that boundary so that my relationship stays private.
So, What Did She Say?
When I talked to my friend, she confirmed that I was definitely not being unreasonable in my thinking. But talking to her gave me some clarity. It made me realize that the points I was trying to make to my boyfriend were not being made with the words I was using. I needed to be more specific, more clear, and ask for exactly what I wanted.
The next time I approached my boyfriend so that we could discuss the situation, I was much more clear and specific, and I laid out my exact thinking for how we could resolve the situation. His response changed, too. We finally found a solution – maybe not the exact one either of us would have liked, but one we could both live with.
How to Air Your Problems to An Outsider
There are a few situations in which being very detailed about your problems with an outside party is a good idea, and even necessary. If you’re working with a relationship counselor or coach, the more information they have, the more they can help you figure out a solution.
But what about when you’re asking a friend for advice? Or a relative?
Here are a few tips on getting advice from a friend or relative:
- Don’t get into the details unless they really matter. For example, unless the problem is specifically about sex, you probably don’t need to mention that you’re not having sex these days. Give a broad overview and limit the details to those that are necessary to offer advice.
- Make sure you don’t paint your partner as the bad guy. It’s easy to say it’s all your partner’s fault because they aren’t listening or they won’t compromise. But remember that you play a role in this too, and that some of what they are doing may be a direct response to your own behavior. Own the fact that you are partially responsible for this problem.
- Ask someone you know will be real with you. I asked the friend I asked because I know that she loves me enough to tell me if I’m being a bitch. And I know she’ll use those words, too. Don’t ask a friend that you know will just validate you and tell you that you’re right. Ask that friend that you can trust to tell you that you’re wrong, you’re unreasonable, or you’re a bitch.
- Make sure your confidant will keep it confidential. The other reason I asked that particular friend is that I know I can trust her not to share my life with others. You don’t want the person you’re asking for advice to then turn around and tell everyone you know (or everyone they know, anyway) that you and your partner are having problems, no matter how big or small the problems may be.
- Be sure the person you ask won’t hold a grudge. I trust my parents completely, but I know that because I’m their daughter, they would take my side even if I were wrong and they would keep a negative opinion of my partner if I came to them for advice. So I don’t put any of us in that position. Again, I chose the friend I chose because I know that, even if she thinks my partner is wrong, she won’t think he’s a horrible guy forever because of it.
Relationships can be hard, and sometimes you really do need the perspective of someone who’s outside it to make sure you’re not overthinking or being unreasonable or overlooking something important.
But it’s also important to be sure that if you are going to ask a third party for help, you ask the right person in the right way and that it doesn’t make things worse.
One Last Tip
The advice is a tool, but if you use it like a hammer, it won’t help. Instead, use it like a microscope.
Don’t wave your phone full of text messages or an email printout in his face and proclaim that five of your best friends can’t possibly be wrong.
Examine the advice and use it to clear your head and refocus so you can approach him with a clearer definition of how you feel, what you want, and what you think.
Otherwise, even if it wasn’t your intention, he’ll end up feeling like all you did was badmouth him publicly and that will only make things worse.