Genuine Communication and the Role of Negativity in Relationships

While I have moved away from calling myself things like a “Modern Gender Traditionalist” over that last year, I still participate in what is arguably a traditional marriage relationship and a traditionally female role in life. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I wrote on anything related to the Traditionalism I originally built this blog around- and for that I apologize. Things haven’t been easy over the last year, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things soon… Starting with talking about something that bothers me quite often concerning some (unfortunately) fairly common relationship advice.

I’ve touched on it before briefly, but after reading a different article today I’ve decided to remove its mentions from the original posts, and talk about it in a post of its own; it’s an important topic that I feel needs to be addressed a bit more in depth than in passing mention.

Book after book that I have read- and article after article, too- that gives relationship advice concerning “how to have the perfect marriage” will often tell you several things. A good number of them will tell you to simply avoid saying anything negative at all about or towards your Spouse. On the same note, another prevalent thought among marriage advice guides is the idea that some things aren’t worth bringing up. Others say that you should learn to “thank him for being helpful” as opposed to “criticizing him for putting the dishes in the wrong place” (as if you can’t do both respectfully). Some will even outright tell you to leave emotions out of the equation entirely when communicating with your Spouse- encouraging you not to talk to them when upset, or to not let emotions play a role in the discussion.

According to them, all of these things are detrimental to relationship; they assert that if you would like to have a healthy, happy relationship with your spouse then negativity (any negativity) has no place within it. It is considered a bad trait that, if you don’t want to be “the nagging wife”, you should avoid at all costs- even if it means bottling up your grievances with your spouse and pretending everything is fine and nothing bothers you. My opinion on this, however, sits very firmly in the opposite camp; this advice is absolutely ridiculous for a number of reasons, and could actually be incredibly detrimental to your relationship in the long run.

Here’s the thing: I genuinely used to have the ideology that some problems weren’t “big enough” to really warrant bringing up to my romantic partners. In fact, I did everything I could to avoid conflict with my Ex during our three year relationship- including letting a lot of “little things” slide far more than I should have. The end result was a mental breakdown that should have put me in a Mental Hospital, a relapse in Alcoholism I had previously manage to kick, and a miserable, abusive 3 year relationship that I let drag on far longer than I should have. In the end, what I learned was the complete opposite of what marriage advice guides so often tell you: To open my trap when I had a problem, no matter what it was or how small it was. Because ultimately, if it bothers you in any way then it isn’t an insignificant problem because it is bothering you; if it wasn’t a problem, then it wouldn’t.

Despite learning that lesson and taking it to heart, however… Even today, with a Husband with whom I have amazing communication, I find myself falling back into those old patterns; none of us likes starting a fight, even when a fight isn’t really a realistic outcome of expressing your emotions. And with article after article telling us that voicing any type of “negativity” is unhealthy for our relationship? It’s incredibly had to break that behavior and pull ourselves out of the loop that it creates.

But the fact of the matter is that relationships are going to have conflicts. People are going to have conflicts. This is unavoidable no matter how much you love your spouse, or how perfectly matched you are; eventually, somewhere down the line, a conflict is going to arise. It doesn’t have to be a big one. It can be a little one over something insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But regardless of its size or what it’s about, it will arise; someone is going to have a bad day. Someone is not going to like something. Someone is not going to want to do something. And when that happens, you are going to have a conflict on your hands.

And here’s the big secret: All conflict is inherently negative; it is a disagreement, an incompatibility in opinion, and an inconsistency… And while it may not be a big deal in retrospect? While it may not develop into a fight or argument with the right skills? That does not detract from its inherently negative nature. Yet the inherently negative nature of conflict, too, does not necessarily mean that conflict should be avoided at every cost. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite.

It is important to recognize that with ideologies like these, “negative” is a word that gets painted with incredibly broad brush strokes. So much so, that practically any statement that isn’t bubbling with positivity and praise for your spouse is considered negative- including something as benign as confiding in your best friend that you’re sad your Husband stopped wearing his cologne so often; it’s ultimately a harmless statement, but according to these mentalities, it’s still a negative one because it doesn’t build your Husband up; at its core, it’s still a complaint about something he does or does not do.

Yet ideologies such as these don’t distinguish between the different types of negativity when swinging their brush around; they don’t talk about the difference between constructive negativity, frustrated venting, or actual negativity which is meant to hurt, dehumanize, or degrade someone… And that lack of distinguishment is a problem because not all negativity is created equally.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes negativity has a useful place in our lives. That place in our lives extends into our relationships as well- and while no one really likes negativity in any form? Negative communication (or the expression of negative emotions or ideas in constructive manners) is still an equally integral part of that communication; you might not like it… But the fact of the matter is that open and honest communication is not always pleasant. It’s purpose isn’t to be pleasant at all, in fact; it is not meant to create warm, fuzzy feelings in you and your Spouse. It is meant to both prevent conflict from arising, and resolve it quickly when it does.

Communication is is one of the main cornerstones of a healthy, happy, and long lasting relationship. But in order to be effective, that communication has to be genuine, open, and honest at all times… But it is not genuine, honest, or truly open communication if you bottle up all of your grievances and never tell your Spouse about them (regardless of how “small” they are); by not expressing negativities and “little things” you are only telling a half truth; you are lying by omission and you are not communicating openly and honestly.

When we do not voice that we are bothered by even seemingly insignificant or trivial things, then there is no responsibility taken by either party concerning them. No responsibility taken, means no resolution can occur. As a result, the root cause of these issues are never addresses or resolved and the emotions they cause are left to fester- leading to recurring conflict and eventually resentment; eventually you will start to resent your spouse and their behavior over time, feel undervalued, or a number of other things… In other words: If you don’t bring it up, it will continue happening. If it continues happening, then it will continue upsetting you. Ergo it is integral that you communicate these things despite guides telling you that you shouldn’t.

And that really is a bitter pill to swallow for most; we’d rather pretend that happy relationships are all rainbows, sunshine, and cotton candy all of the time… But it’s simply not the truth. It’s a fantasy and an incredibly damaging romanticization of how real, healthy relationships actually operate- and sometimes real, happy, healthy relationships involve negativity, and that negativity has an important place in open, honest, and genuine communication.

The integral function of negative communication in relationships, however, doesn’t mean that you can go blasting off at full speed, screaming at your spouse for every little thing that upsets you. As an adult who presumably wants to be loved by their spouse, taken seriously, and ultimately be respected? That kind of childish, disrespectful behavior is never acceptable. Furthermore, it does absolutely nothing for conflict resolution; you’re not going to solve your problems by screaming at someone. You’re just going to make them close up and give up on communication. No one likes to be treated like mud or screamed at, least of all by people they thought loved and respected them.

Instead, the key is in distinguishing between what is actually a problem that needs to be voiced, and what’s just you having a bad day and being a bit more sensitive than usual; it is in distinguishing between the different types of negativity, and finding the most effective ways to communicate them in a respectful, mature, rational manner that facilitates their resolution; And lastly, it is about approaching your spouse with respect, as both a person and an equal.

If you can do that? Then you’re going to be much happier whenever problems arise than you would be otherwise. Especially when the other option is bottling it all up.

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