This past summer, my husband and I renovated our guest bedroom. The lead paint chips were removed, the walls were sanded, primed and painted. All that was left were finishing touches- a new duvet, pillows, lamp for the nightstand, and sheets. Sheets… One would think that sheets might be the least problematic part of a renovation, but the mere utterance of the word still makes me cringe a little. On one particularly warm summer night, sheets were less like fabric and more like a curse word that transformed a sweet date night into a yelling match and slamming doors.
The beginning of the night was date night perfection; Chris, and I sipped wine on the patio of our go-to Italian restaurant, Il Mito, shared kisses in between bites of spaghetti bolognese and topped off our meal with my fave dessert, crème brulée. Hand-in-hand we walked home, eager to snuggle on the couch and catch up on Netflix. But first, (for whatever reason) I wanted to show him the new sheets I bought to complete our guest bedroom.
I stripped the bed, pulled out the brand new charcoal grey sheets and stretched the fitted sheet across the mattress. Fluffing the top sheet like a parachute, I tucked in the corners and smoothed out all the ripples. “Chris!” I called out, “Come check out our new sheets!” I ran my hands across the sheets, excited that this last piece was done. These were perfect. But wait, why do these feel scratchy all of a sudden? At the store they felt satiny and smooth; why do they now feel like sandpaper? I glared at Chris desperately hopeful that I was wrong, and he said, “Hmm… these are scratchy.”
Like a light switch, my mood instantly flipped. I ripped the new sheets off the bed and threw them in a heap on the floor. Stomping around the room, I attempted to put the old sheets back on, only to knock the bed off its risers, nearly smashing my toes. In an effort to diffuse the situation Chris said, “Babe. It’s okay. I know it’s frustrating that the sheets are not what you expected, but we can just return them.” When he said those words, I flashed to an episode of Friends, where Ross, one of the main characters, finds out that someone stole his favorite, left-over Thanksgiving turkey sandwich from the refrigerator at work. Enraged, his eyes bulge and he yells, “MY SANDWICH!? MYYYY SANDWICH?!?!” In that instant, I transformed into irate Ross. Furious and irrational I cried, "We can just return them?! WE CAN JUST RETURN THEM?!"
After shouting back and forth for fifteen solid minutes, I pounded my way upstairs, slammed the bedroom door and flung myself on the bed. Truth is, this wasn’t about the sheets. It was about the fact that, in this season, our marriage felt a lot less like play and a ton more like work.
Before we got married, people warned us, “Marriage is amazing, but it is HARD." I believed them, but it wasn’t until year 6 that I experienced the truth of that statement. Let’s not kid ourselves, Chris and I have had plenty of difficulties and arguments in the years prior, but it wasn’t until year 6 where way more often than I’d like to admit, I thought, holy cats, I really want to poke him right in the eye and I won’t even feel bad about it. For who knows what reason, this year, we were seemingly never on the same page. Dinnertime constantly felt like punishment as we battled our way through heavy conversations about how I was frustrated, feeling neglected or misunderstood, and how he felt like he was trying his hardest, but it still wasn’t enough for me.
On this dreadful date night caused by scratchy sheets, I was defeated and I didn’t want to talk anymore. I wanted to fall asleep and wake up in a place where we wanted to kiss more than we wanted to rip each other’s heads off. The problem is, more talking is exactly what we needed.
After 6 years of marriage, I fell into the habit of thinking, he should know this already. I shouldn’t have to communicate how I feel, HE SHOULD JUST KNOW. But here’s the thing – it is wholly unrealistic for us to assume that our significant other can know how we feel 100% of the time.
The reason I turned into an angry person when Chris recommended we return the sheets was, I felt like a failure. In this season, every project I was working on was far from completion so when a simple task of buying sheets also fell through, I lost it. But my poor innocent husband had no idea because I hadn’t told him how I was feeling. If I had simply expressed my emotion saying, “Ugh. This makes me so frustrated because it feels like everything I am working on is incomplete…” we could have completely avoided the blowout.
I truly wish Chris could know what I am feeling all the time. But since he's not a mind reader, I have to keep telling him. When people say communication is the key to a happy relationship, after 6 years of marriage, I can absolutely attest to that being true. If we want to excel in our relationships we have to be willing to communicate.
When we were stuck in this season of heavy conversations, we developed three habits that were extremely beneficial in our communication game. And I want to pass them on to you.
1. Know your feelings.
If we want to be able to communicate how we’re feeling, it’s crucial that we know how we’re feeling. This was a big one for Chris – working a busy job he recognized that the time he gave himself to reflect on how he was feeling was minimal. Taking action on this step was impactful.
Tip: Take the time to reflect and assess. How am I feeling about our relationship? How am I feeling in general? Ask yourself, why am I upset? Is it something he/she said or is it the way it was said? What would be helpful for me when I’m upset? And so on. The better we know ourselves, the better we can communicate what we need.
2. Stop assuming.
It’s easy to assume we understand what our significant other is saying, but a lot of times we’re actually wrong. I’m guilty of this quite often. Chris might say something like, “Oh man, the floor is dusty.” And I immediately take that to mean, “He's saying I’m a bad wife because I don’t clean enough.”
Tip: After listening to what your significant other has to say, repeat back to them what you heard starting with, “So, what I hear you saying is….” Then go on to describe what you heard them say. A lot of times it’s a revealing exercise that enables you to make sure you're both understanding what is being communicated. Taking turns doing this exercise is really valuable.
3. COMMUNICATE. Share your feelings and ASK your spouse to do the same.
This last one is plain and simple- talk to your significant other. After you take the time to self-reflect and know how you’re feeling, share with your spouse. And then when you're done, ASK them to share where they're at.
Tip: Communication is not just for the bad days – it's important to practice sharing and asking every day. Tell your significant other about your day, include the seemingly small emotional moments. Ask how your spouse’s day was, listen intentionally, and then dig deeper - ask if they are feeling encouraged or frustrated, and how you can help.
These tips sound so simple, and they are, but they are also extremely beneficial. This summer was not an easy one for our marriage; it was draining. But now that we’re out of the woods, I can honestly say that having to work extra hard on communication produced a stronger, more efficient marriage.
You know what else helped? Being honest with my support network that we were in a heavy place. I don't know why the truth that marriage is often a struggle is another one of the "things we don't talk about." Maybe we're afraid people will judge us for admitting we want to poke our significant other in the eye more often than not, or maybe we're afraid people will assume the worst thinking divorce is on the table - I don't know. But, I want to break the barrier and start encouraging each other in the beautiful struggle that is marriage.
If you're not married, let me encourage you that this post is for you too; because let’s be honest – relationships, in all shapes and sizes, are exhausting at one point or another. Whether you're tired of the struggle with your friend, your significant other, your mom, or your spouse, let me assure you, working on your communication game will be worth it.
In our friendships, families, and marriages let's be people who over communicate and do our best to lace every word with love. It will not go unwarranted.
This post is part of my series titled "Things we don't talk about"