Breaking the News

Do you ever see a problem coming a mile away—a potential conflict between you and your partner—and spend hours (at least in the back of your mind) worrying about it?

The good news is, it’s normal. Like kids worried about showing our parents a poor grade, we often blow things out of proportion, assuming that if we have bad news for our partner, he or she is going to have a terrible reaction.

The better news? It’s often a false concern. And the best way to deal with it is head on—and the sooner the better. Maybe you can’t find an important tax document, and April 15 is just days away. Maybe the cost for replacing your partner’s car transmission came in far higher than either of you expected and will place a strain on your budget this month. Or one of the kids knocked a crystal wine flute his mom gave you off the shelf, and now there’s a big chip on the brim.

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, especially if they feel at least partially responsible. That’s not uncommon, either. Women, even those who work outside the home, seem more likely to blame themselves for household problems, but even back in the 1950s, they probably blamed themselves far too much for anything that went wrong. They might think if they had kept the crystal figure further from the edge of the shelf, or kept a better eye on where the children were playing, the accident never would have happened. Or that missing W2 tax document? Well, that was their mistake, right? But everyone misplaces papers. Everyone!

Yet—and this is the important part—whatever happens in your relationship or family, it should be a relationship of equals, and if someone makes a mistake, you should deal with it together. And the best advice is to be as upfront as possible.

For instance, technological communication gets a bad rap these days as the demise of face-to-face interaction, but especially for those who are confrontation-averse, it can be a really useful tool. It’s not appropriate for conveying deeply emotional information, but it can definitely take the teeth out of one of the aforementioned situations, which are, after all, pretty mundane. Studies have shown that one-time “crises” like broken things that come with an expensive bill cause far less emotional trauma than living with the little things like that annoying back door that never locks properly…which is another way of saying that bringing the problem of the day out into the open as soon as possible is like ripping off a bandage. Just get it over with, and try and put things in perspective.

Again, believe it or not, cellphones, emails and instant messages can make this really easy and even help put things in perspective. Send your partner a message to break the ice: “One of the crystal champagne flutes your mom gave us last year is cracked and probably ruined. I am SO sorry.” Imagine the relief you’ll feel when your partner responds, “Oh well. When’s the last time we had eight people over for a champagne toast?”

Again, sending your partner a text message about serious issues is probably inappropriate. Yet with lesser problems that you are inclined to blown out of proportion, it’s a great tool for getting away from the bad habit of “sweating the small stuff,” as the saying goes (and continues, “it’s almost always small stuff.) Your partner might get upset when things go wrong. Who doesn’t? But getting it out there can do wonders for clearing (your) air: at least you don’t have to spend your day wondering how much it’s going to bother your partner. But communication is almost always a good thing, no matter what the medium. The alternative is to cause yourself angst that’s disproportionate to the problem at hand, assuming your partner will be devastated about something he or she doesn’t even yet know about.

Again, the sooner you let out the bad news, the sooner you can get back to what matters in both of your lives. Even before you get a response for your partner you might be surprised how much better you feel, the burden taken off your mind and the more able to tackle the more important things: solving conflicts at work, coming to an agreement about price with the transmission guy, and enjoying your partner’s company in spite of what often turn out to be minor inconveniences. And remember, whatever it is, just come out and say it! That’s so much better than holding it in or keeping secrets that might not have mattered to your partner in the first place. You and your relationship are so much more important than chipped crystal. And if you need proof, just ask. Chances are that your partner will agree.

If you need help in your relationship, the staff at the Relationship Center of Orange County is here to assist you.  Call us today at (949) 430-7198  to schedule your appointment, or use are online scheduling tool.

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