Answer me this: how long have you and your partner been together?
5 years? 10 years? Longer?
No doubt at some point during that time – probably on multiple occasions – you’ve sat down at work with your boss and discussed your work performance, the overall health of the business, and the plans for the business’ future.
…so why isn’t this a regular occurrence in relationships?
We know how important it is to review and revisit goals in a work environment, but it’s just as important – if not more so – to do the same type of review with your intimate partner(s).
If you’re asking why, let me explain…
Time = Change
Think about where you were when you were 20 years old. Or, if you’re 20, think of the person you were when you were 15.
A lot has changed since then, hasn’t it?
Hell, a lot has likely changed in the past six months, let alone over the past few years or decades.
Whether it’s through overall life experience or sudden epiphanies, we all grow and change as time passes.
That doesn’t just mean you: it means your partner as well.
They’re unlikely to be the exact same person you met and fell for X amount of time ago, and their own personal aspirations and needs are likely to have shifted significantly as well.
The key is to talk to them openly and candidly about where they are, how they’re feeling, and whether they’re happy about current circumstances.
Talking Openly Can Be Really Scary
One of the main reasons why people hesitate to talk to their partners about their relationship is because they’re terrified that the other person will say that they’re unhappy.
Or worse… that they want to end the relationship.
People will go to extraordinary lengths to stay in a “safe space,” where they feel secure and comfortable.
Maintaining the status quo is a lot easier than facing the very real possibility of losing someone they care about. And losing their comfortable little happy place with it… even if it stopped being truly happy a long time ago.
Consider how many people you know who talk to you about their relationship woes instead of talking to their partners about them.
Why is that?
Why do people hesitate to be honest and forthright with the person who’s closest to them?
The main reason most people give for their lack of open communication is because they’re scared of hurting the other person.
I mean, when we think about our partners, spouses, etc., we’re with them for a reason, right?
We wouldn’t be with these people if we didn’t love them dearly.
Even if romantic love has cooled a little bit, we still care for them deeply and wouldn’t want to cause them any pain.
If we tell them that certain feelings have changed, or that personal interests and life goals have shifted, we run the very real risk of hurting someone we care about quite deeply.
The thing is, when we discuss these matters openly – with loving kindness and compassion – we open the doors to growth and change.
Those don’t need to be scary: they can actually be incredibly healing and beautiful.
For all we know, our partners may feel the same way that we do, and have been hesitating to talk to us for the same reasons: they don’t want to hurt us, they’re afraid that voicing certain needs will rock the boat, etc.
But once those floodgates are open, there’s an amazing opportunity to work through things with our loved ones and move forward together, into more positive, happier, more fulfilling realms.
Whether you’re in a marriage, a civil partnership, or any other kind of relationship, it’s more than likely that certain goals and boundaries have been established.
You may have decided to work toward a specific goal together (like buying a house), and have personal rules that need to be respected (like having X time to yourself on a particular day).
But… what happens when personal goals and desires change?
Is it more important to keep plodding toward a contract you signed up to years ago if you’re a different person now?
How do you know that the other person is still invested in this goal as well?
Simple. You talk to them.
Imagine that house-buying scenario for a minute. Let’s say that when they got together, a couple decided that they would save up to buy a house.
As the years have gone by, one of them knows for a fact that they don’t really want to buy a home and settle down just yet: they’d rather spend a year travelling the world… but they don’t tell their partner that, because of the goal they committed to together.
…meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, their partner feels the same way.
THEY would rather take a year off and do a whole lot of travelling together, but they don’t want to say anything for fear of upsetting their loved one, risking hurt and conflict and a potential breakup.
So the two of them plod forward with fake smiles and forced enthusiasm, looking at real estate listings instead of travel brochures. They’re both miserable, and that misery could turn into a breakup in the not-too-distant future.
If they’d just TALK to each other about how they really feel, they could do the travelling that they both want to do and be truly happy – doing exactly what their hearts and souls ache for, together.
The Worst Truth Is Better Than The Best Lie
Have you heard the expression, “This above all: to thine own self be true”?
It’s really important to live authentically, but many (possibly most) people don’t.
They put on masks and maintain facades in order to make other people happy. To keep up appearances, keep others comfortable in their content little bubbles, all the while dying inside because they’re living a lie.
Being honest about who you are and what you need is immensely freeing, and can actually alleviate all kinds of emotional and mental hardships.
Sure, there’s inevitably going to be negative fallout, but that passes with time.
What you’re left with is the freedom to be who you really are, and pursue what you really need to make your soul shine.
With regard to how this might affect your relationship, you could be dealing with anything from an aching desire to change careers or go back to school, to the need to transition gender to the one that you feel is right for you.
Plodding onward in a life that doesn’t fit you anymore isn’t good for you or those you share your life with.
Partners and children can tune into your despair, and it affects them in turn.
Even if you feel like you’re maintaining that status quo really well, there are undoubtedly undercurrents that ripple outward into the lives of those around you.
You May Be Pleasantly Surprised
As mentioned, one of the main reasons why a person may hesitate to discuss what may be considered as a “difficult” topic with their spouse is because they’re afraid of how they might respond.
We usually assume how another person will react, but those assumptions are often based on personal bias.
Basically, we never really know how a person will respond to a subject or situation until we broach it with them.
Case in point: a married couple that stayed together during the male (now female) partner’s gender transition. It must have been excruciating for the trans partner to open up to her wife about how she felt, but she received unconditional support and acceptance.
Long-term relationships need to shift and change, lest they stagnate. Some couples find that they’re happier if they become polyamorous, and some polyamorous couples may try monogamy.
A couple that has always balked at raising kids might suddenly want to become parents. Or cat people might secretly love to adopt a dog.
Humans are constantly growing and changing, whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, physically, or a mix of all of the above (and more).
Expecting a relationship to remain constant and unchangeable in the face of ever-shifting sands is unrealistic.
You and your partner love and respect one another. Offering each other the chance to live your authentic truths, with support and encouragement, is part of that love and respect.
It’s great to give them the opportunity to step up and be the partner they know they can be, even if things may be a little weird now and then.
Isn’t that what partners are for?
Give them the chance to be awesome.
“Are You Happy With The Way Things Are?”
That’s an incredibly powerful-yet-difficult question to ask the one you love.
Chances are, if they burst into tears upon being asked that, the answer might be “no.” If it IS no, this is the opportunity to address it.
In fact, if you’re both unhappy, this is the perfect time for both of you to splay all your stuff on the table and find a way to sort through it together.
When you’re in a relationship with another person, it’s more than likely that your greatest wish is for one another’s happiness.
By being open and honest, you not only have a greater chance of attaining your own authentic joy: you have the ability to help them reach theirs.
These open dialogues allow you to bring up topics that you feel need to be addressed with your love one(s), in a safe, loving, and non-judgmental space.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.