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November 20, 2009

Cohabitation and Relationship – Part Ten: Solving problems?

In every relationship, no matter how lovey-dovey you are, problems can and will arise that will have to be dealt with. There could be money problems, a scheduling mishap, a disagreement about household responsibilities, or someone could accidentally erase your PVR – when you’re living in close quarters, there are lots of opportunities to grow closer, but also to be driven crazy by issues, whether they are big issues or small issues. Fights happen! The size of the issues don’t really matter; what matters is how you choose to deal with them.

A lot of how you deal with your problems depends on the personalities of you and your partner. One of you might be a let’s-hash-it-all-out kind of person, where the other might be a leave-me-alone-to-think-about-it type. Obviously, such different approaches could spell trouble for the two of you, if you don’t find a way to resolve the problem in a way that is healthy for you both, and your relationship.

Let’s look at the first type, the ones who want to talk about everything, all the time, even it means staying up all night yelling at each other. There are pros and cons to this approach to problem-solving. A pro-side to this approach is that everything gets out in the open; nothing is bottled up or “saved for later,” it all comes barrelling out. This type of arguing is in-your-face kind of honest, which is both a good thing (who wants hidden feelings?) and a bad thing (can get a little intense) On the con-side: This type tends to be a little more high-strung (bad-tempered?) and stubborn, so get ready for loud arguments and lots and lots of questions. They will make you stay up all night if necessary, because going to bed angry doesn’t solve any problems, it just makes things worse.

Now the second type: This is the type that prefers to sit quietly, mull things over, even “sulk” (to outsiders) over issues. Talking about problems isn’t always necessary, and attempts to get them to open up will likely just make the situation worse. When asked “What’s wrong?” they’ll likely say “nothing,” even though it isn’t the case. Unlike the first type, they’d rather think about things before saying anything; they’d rather avoid the fireworks of conflict. On the pro-side: they are more likely to think about things in a rational way, rather than just burst out with all of their emotions all over the place. They are likely to make logical arguments instead of go with their feelings, and stick to the issue at hand. On the con-side: They can leave their partner feeling shut out if they don’t talk about their problems; it’s supposed to be a partnership, and partnerships need honesty. Also, their tendencies to be ultra-“logical” can come across as cold or belittling when talking about their partner’s emotions.

What did we do? Well to be really honest, I’m more of the first type, and dear BF is more of the second type, so we’ve had our share of crazy arguments (pre-and post-move, 5.5 years remember?) that cater to both of our styles. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust that he will talk about what is bothering him when he’s ready, and that his need for space when upset has nothing to do with our relationship; it’s just his way. On his side, he’s learned to deal with my emotional outbursts without patronizing me (is there anything worse than being told to “calm down” when you’re good and angry?), that I just need to get everything off my chest, even if it seems over the top. We are honest with each other, try to listen to what the other is saying, and respect that we don’t always see things, or deal with things, the same way. What matters is that we’ve managed to blend together our problem-solving in a way that leaves us both feeling respected and listened to, and ready to move on from the issue. Remember: once something has been argued about and resolved, leave it in the past where it belongs. Learn from it and move on; don’t bring it up every time you have a fight.

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