Timing Is Everything
Marital problems are like toothaches. If ignored, they only fester and becomes more painful. This makes communication about the problem absolutely necessary. However, complaints and sensitive topics raised with your partner at the wrong time or in the wrong place can worsen rather than help you deal with a touchy issue. Because of a woman's verbal advantages over a man, it's especially important for a wife to know when to bring up a potentially difficult topic for discussion with her husband — as well as how.
Even a question as simple to a woman as “How was your day?” if asked as soon as the man walks in the door after a day of work, can feel like an unwelcome demand or even an attack. What's under attack from the man's point of view is his need for some period of recovery, relaxation, and freedom from all the demands that have been made on him in the course of that day.
While typically associated with men, this same dynamic can be reversed if you are a woman who comes home from a highly stressful job and feels the need for solitude before engaging with your spouse after a long day. Unfortunately, since most women who work outside the home also carry the brunt of childcare and household chores, the idea of a woman asking for a brief downtime at the end of her work day may not appear practical. This makes it all the more important for the two of you to deal with this as an issue for negotiation — but only when the time is right. So when should you bring up an issue with your partner? Try not to choose one of these moments.
When rushed or stressed (morning rush, bedtime crush, while paying bills)
While discussing another difficult issue (one at a time)
When one of you is depressed, drunk, or sick
Right after getting home from work
When you're with other people
The only way to establish your preferences about the timing of a potentially difficult topic is to communicate with each other about when and where to hold such a discussion. There is also a right way and a wrong way to verbalize your feelings about your partner's behavior.
Do say, “I need to go sit alone in the den and watch the news before we talk.”
Don't say, “Leave me alone. You never give me any time to catch my breath.”
The first is a statement about your needs. The second is an accusation and a blaming statement. Which would you rather hear?
Give Your Partner Warning
Sometimes a man or woman prefers to be given advance notice or warning about his partner's need for a time “to talk.” Identifying the general topic and scheduling such talks for later that day or even later in the week can allow him to organize his thoughts ahead of time. Advance notice also enables him to identify potential emotional reactions to which he may be vulnerable and help him keep such emotions out of the conversation, making problem solving more likely. The same dynamic holds true when a topic is more sensitive for the woman. A man can ease the existing tension between them by giving her notice of his intention to address the issue of concern, giving her the chance to prepare if the time is off in the future.
Committing to a more in-depth weekly, biweekly, or monthly clearing process also enhances good communication. Clearing processes are scheduled appointments when couples agree to communicate about topics that they would rather not address. Very often, it is not what is said that creates tension; it is what is left unsaid. The unspoken arises within the relationship and slowly strangles the love and the bond between the two. Conflicts usually occur from what hasn't been said. It is important to keep communication open, free, and healthy; the clearing process will ensure that happens.
When you touch base at the end of a day, a brief exchange works best. It can help the one who's stressed get relief by airing a concern that is not about your relationship, be it an episode with a difficult boss or a child's teacher. The key is for the listener to validate his partner's emotions — but not to criticize or offer unsolicited advice. Being able to count on having someone who's on your side is one of the joys of a marriage that works.