To keep any relationship alive, the individuals within it must share their innermost thoughts and feelings. It’s easy, but unrealistic, to assume your partner knows what’s going on in your head, which often leads to certain “hot buttons” being pressed between partners. A hot button is an emotional, usually controversial issue or concern that triggers an immediate intense reaction.
Why Communication Is Crucial In Relationships
To help keep the pushing of hot buttons to a minimum, there are a few reasons why it’s crucial to develop healthy communication skills in a relationship:
- We are “meaning” makers, and we interpret each message according to our past. For example, you might unknowingly expect your partner to behave and communicate the same way your parents or other relationship role models did — and you might react to your partner the way you would to that parent.
- We often hear what we expect to, and it’s not always the message the other person intended. Your partner might look out the window and say, “It’s raining.” You could interpret that as a simple statement or as a complaint. That interpretation will determine how you’ll react.
- We shortchange our potential to develop a peaceful, loving relationship when we allow one or both people within it to feel misunderstood. It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t ask for it clearly.
- We open the door for lies and secrecy to overtake a relationship when we withhold information. Caring, diplomatic truth-telling helps a relationship thrive. Deceit is likely to spell its doom.
A Shared Definition Of “Healthy Relationship”
Before you can communicate what you want, you must know what you want. To have the relationship you want, you must know how you expect that relationship to be defined.
One definition of a healthy relationship might be a union involving people who have a common vision that they communicate openly and strengthen daily. You might also expect your relationship to include mutual love and respect, a desire to grow together and support each other, the enjoyment of each other’s company, compatible lifestyles, shared responsibility, and a willingness to work through issues as they arise and allow space where it’s needed.
You might also consider what you’re not willing to accept in a relationship. Some deal-breakers might be abuse, addiction, dishonesty, infidelity and financial irresponsibility.
Common Hot-Button Issues
Even after establishing what you and your partner want out of the relationship, you may still discover the need to iron out an understanding in key areas. Some hot-button issues that commonly lead to conflict include:
- Mismatched communication styles – The way we communicate varies. Some people are shy about speaking their minds, and others are blunt. Finding a way to relate opens the door to address important subjects, instead of letting them fester. A great resource for advice on how to communicate kindly and effectively is the book Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love by Nancy Dreyfus, PsyD.
- Disagreements over finances – Many couples don’t see eye to eye on how money should be earned, spent and invested. To find mutual ground, it’s important to understand what money means to each partner. Is it about control? Is either person in debt? Do you decide together how money is used?
- Lack of sexual compatibility – Sex is connected to issues such as intimacy, body image, affection and willingness to meet each other’s needs. Couples must be willing to discuss these topics, as well as history, safety precautions and readiness to engage in different activities. An interesting way to initiate a conversation might be to ask each other the questions in this good-in-bed survey called “What Would You Do?”
- Religious differences – Disagreements about belief and practice might be a deal breaker for many couples, although not to the same extent as with previous generations. It might help to explore what you were raised to believe about God, spirituality and worship, as well as current beliefs. Some people identify more with a religious culture than with a set of doctrines. And many interfaith couples manage to find an arrangement that works for them.
- Conflicts over parenting – Like religious beliefs, ideas about how best to raise children are often rooted in how parents themselves were raised. And as with religious disagreements, parents can often learn to shape a peaceful home environment by exploring their personal history and current attitudes.
Finding that you and your partner don’t align ideologically on one or more of these topics doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed. Awareness of and attention to these issues can intensify a relationship by opening the door for communication — but you must express yourselves clearly and show mutual respect to keep these hot buttons from becoming serious sore spots.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1