I’m sure you can think of at least one thing that happened earlier in your relationship that your partner can’t let go of. To you it probably feels like you’ve already talked about it enough times, resolved it and there’s no point in continuing to discuss it any more. And yet your partner keeps coming back to it wanting to tell you how she feels about what happened. And now you’re starting to get annoyed which turns to aggravation which results in getting defensive, shutting down or criticizing your partner. Inside you’re screaming, “Get over it!” Needless to say, none of these strategies have been effective and you don’t know what else to do.
I see this dynamic very often with the couples I work with. Couples typically don’t come in with issues they’ve never talked about or haven’t attempted to try to talk about. I often hear from one or both of the partners, “What’s the point of talking about something we’ve already argued about. Nothing is going to change.”
I agree with them. Well, kind of agree with them. They’re right that nothing is going to change if they talk about the issue in the same way they have tried to talk about it in the past. And at the same time there is a way for everything to change if they talk about the problem in a healthier way. So what does that look like?
Often all that one partner needs is to be heard, validated and empathized with. They’re not looking for an answer or for anything to be fixed. He/she is needing to feel validated for their experience so they know they aren’t crazy for thinking and feeling the way they do. They don’t want a suggestion, they don’t want to problem solved and often they don’t even won’t their partner’s opinion. And the reason they keep bringing up the same past issue over and over again is that they’ve never felt that their partner truly understands what they went through and maybe are still going through.
Once he/she fully expresses their thoughts and feelings and experiences their partner fully getting them and what they went through, how it made them feel, how it affected them, and what they wish would happen differently next time, then there’s usually nothing else left to say. And once their partner fully listens, understands, knows what they were feeling and is aware of what he/she would like to change going forward, then both have had a complete conversation about the issue.
And unless there is any new information that needs to be brought up, there usually isn’t a reason to talk about the same issue again. And if one partner is having difficulty letting go their side of the issue, then it may be helpful for them to explore what’s the benefit for them of holding on to the issue rather than putting their energy into building their relationship.
Both partners need to be committed to learning and practicing talking in a more loving way where both feel respected and that their feelings and thoughts are important. When this happens, connection happens. And when partners are more connected, they look forward to talking about anything and everything that is of concern to either partner. And when that happens, issues get resolved more quickly and couples are able to focus on what’s really important in their relationship: creating and sharing a joyful life together.