When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19
Communication is one of the most important and essential building blocks to a healthy marriage and lifelong love. But sometimes, we can complicate the situations we face with our spouse by over-communicating–and it’s times like these when we need to be able to read each situation and decide whether or not we should continue talking about it.
Silence can be a balm when we’re dealing with issues that are highly emotional, unresolved, or which have brought us to a stalemate with our spouse. Choosing to not speak–to refrain from pushing each other for answers or resolutions–can help us solve problems that might have seemed unsolvable before. Creating that space for one another can mean the difference between a solution and a long-term gridlock.
So how do you know when it’s time to give a topic a rest? We’ve compiled 7 questions to ask yourself when one or both of you has run a subject into the ground. With a little time and space, you’ll (hopefully!) be able to put your heads back together and land on a solution that works for both of you.
Let’s get started.
1. ARE YOU TWO ALL TALK, BUT NO ACTION?
Have you talked circles around what needs to be done to solve a particular problem…yet taken no action toward solving it? Over-analyzing, over-thinking, and over-discussing an issue can lead to “analysis paralysis”–in other words, you get stuck in a proverbial spin cycle that keeps you talking, but never results in you taking charge and taking action. And unfortunately, you find yourselves with more pressure and less energy to do the things that need to be done.
Resolution Tip: When you find yourselves over-analyzing, hit the brakes on the talk and spark momentum by saying something like, “Alright, we’ve got this covered. Let’s make it happen.” End the spin and put that energy into motion!
2. ARE YOU GIVING TOO MUCH UNSOLICITED ADVICE?
We love our spouses so much, it can be tempting to try to “fix” their bad habits by offering too much unwanted critique. Maybe we don’t like how they cook, their clutter, or their propensity for being tardy all the time, so we say little things like, “It would be so much better if you could (fill in the blank),” or “You’ll make us late if you (fill in the blank).” This can make your spouse feel judged and inadequate.
Resolution Tip: If you absolutely must share an opinion or piece of advice, try saying something to make it more palatable, like, “I know you didn’t ask for my advice, but can’t I tell you where my brain’s going?” But for the most part, try to stop inserting your opinion at every turn because it’s not helping (we promise).
3. DO YOU REMEMBER THE PROBLEM YOU WERE DISCUSSING IN THE FIRST PLACE?
We’ve all been there–you get into a majorly heated discussion with your spouse about one thing, only to experience an avalanche of other topics and issues that are completely unrelated to what started this whole conversation in the first place. Maybe a discussion about which countertops to choose for the kitchen remodel just deteriorated into a character assassination competition involving the in-laws. Whatever the case, there’s no way you can resolve anything when you’re out in left field arguing over an unrelated topic.
Resolution Tip: When your conversation derails into unrelated territory, take a time-out by saying, “Hey, what are we doing? We need to cool down.” (Because wait–what was the first problem, again? We can’t even remember.)
He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles.” – Proverbs 21:23
4. IS ONE OF YOU BEING UNREASONABLE? (OR BOTH?)
When we’re debating issues that are highly emotional for one or both of us, it’s easy to slide into a place of overreaction. When we allow our emotions to govern our discussions, we can quickly become unreasonable–and it’s almost impossible to have a constructive conversation with someone you can’t reason with. Emotionally reactive, unreasonable interactions are rife with black-and-white thinking, generalized statements, and hurtful remarks, so it’s best to end these conversations until you’re both in a more receptive frame of mind.
Resolution Tip: If your spouse is being unreasonable, stop feeding into their emotional reaction. Instead, end the conversation with a polite statement like, “I’m going to give you space now,” then stick to it. Chances are, your spouse will come back around after they’ve cooled down.
5. DOES ONE OF YOU NEED SOME TIME TO THINK?
Have you two been going in circles around a big decision that means a lot to both of you? Even though you might feel very invested in a particular outcome, you need to determine whether your spouse needs a little more time to think about it–maybe more time than you’d like. Don’t push them; give them space and time to consider the options before you. Pressuring your spouse is only going to make the decision-making process more difficult…that could drag it out longer. If you resist the urge to nag or hound your spouse, you’ll be more likely to reach a compromise (that’s favorable for both of you) more quickly.
Resolution Tip: If you’re the spouse who needs a little extra time to think, end the ongoing conversations by saying something like, “That’s interesting. I’d like to think it over and let you know in a few days.” If your spouse is the one who needs time, honor their wishes and step back.
6. HAVE YOU BEEN A BROKEN RECORD ABOUT THIS ISSUE?
We know how it goes; your spouse probably has a few personality traits, quirks, or habits that really get on your nerves. And no matter how many times you’ve asked her to stop throwing her dirty clothes in the floor–or “reminded” him to fill up the gas tank instead of leaving it on empty–nothing seems to be changing. Or maybe you’ve gone round and round a particular conflict that you just can’t seem to resolve, and you’re exhausted. If you’ve been as repetitive as a broken record, maybe it’s time to take a break and give yourself some time to rest.
Resolution Tip: Decide on a set amount of time during which you’re going to drop the issue and not bring it up again. It could be three months, or it could be a year–the point is to give some space to the problem. In the meantime, figure out some ways you can alleviate the distress you’re feeling; for example, if your wife throws her laundry in the floor, chuck it in the hamper yourself. You might be surprised how much better you feel when the issue is resolved, even if it’s not resolved in the way you originally preferred.
7. ARE BOTH OF YOU READY TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION?
As with many of our interactions, anxiety can play a big part in propelling us into conversation–even when one of us isn’t in the right frame of mind to tackle the issue at that moment. Husbands, don’t try to start a deep or weighty conversation when your wife is immersed in a work assignment; and wives, if your husband is wrangling the kids at bedtime, it might be best to hold that thought until the little ones are settled.
Resolution Tip: Wait to discuss what’s on your mind until there are no pressing distractions or obligations demanding your immediate attention. Let your spouse finish what they’re in the middle of, then ask if it’s a good time to have that conversation.