As a nationally certified and licensed professional counselor, Janis helps her clients resolve relationship conflicts and trust issues.
Why We Avoid Asking Our Partners the Hard Questions
There are issues in every relationship that never seem to get addressed. These issues linger in the form of questions that play in our heads. We want to know the answers, we need answers, and we feel that we are entitled to answers. But we dare not ask the questions.
Is it that we are afraid of the truth? Are we afraid of the argument that will ensue? Or maybe we are just not up for the conflict. Or worse, we just don't know how to communicate effectively.
These "unasked" questions lead to unresolved issues in a relationship or marriage. The reason the issues recur is that the couple avoids confronting what's really going on. Avoidance prevents them from doing the difficult work that needs to be done in order to heal and move forward.
Top 10 Questions and Issues Couples Avoid
The following are ten questions with corresponding themes that one or the other partner avoids asking out of fear of what will happen if they do. The themes encompass some of the most common issues couples grapple with at some point during the course of the relationship: finances, sex, trust, and infidelity.
These issues frequently cycle into recurring conflicts that remain unresolved and may require intervention in the form of couples counseling. In the meantime, suggestions are given on how best to approach your partner or spouse by the re-wording of your question.
1. "Are you having an affair?"
Unresolved Theme: Broken Trust/ Betrayal/ Infidelity
Best Approach: Instead of going on attack mode, express your fears based on the observations you've made about changes in your partner's behavior that make you suspicious:
"I've noticed you coming home later in the evening and it makes me have thoughts of losing you. What's been keeping you out lately?"
2. "Have you been tested for . . .?"
Unresolved Theme: Trust/ Fidelity/ Fear of Disease
Best Approach: In a new relationship that has moved to the next level, share your medical history and sexual behavior first to level and ease the playing field. Speak in general terms of the importance of good health and safe sexual behavior in all encounters to take the labeling or on-the-spot feeling out of the equation:
"Hey, I want you to know that I've been tested for [HIV] because I think it's important for me to be safe and for whomever I'm with to feel safe, too. How about you?"
3. "When are we having sex again?"
Unresolved Theme: Sexual Intimacy/Impotence/Libido Issues
Best Approach: Sexual intimacy is a huge topic about which partners fall out of sync. A regular sexual connection literally holds couples together in the midst of all other conflicts. When it's not happening, for whatever reason, the relationship is at risk:
"I miss being with you and I'm afraid that our sex life may not return to the way it used to be. Do you remember how it was when things were good?"
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4. "Who were you just talking to?"
Unresolved Theme: Fear of Rejection/Insecurities
Best Approach: First of all, check your need to know and why you're asking in the first place. Has there been a history of cheating between the both of you or from previous relationships? Are you being possessive of your partner's time with others? Be aware of your motives as you respect your partner's privacy:
"That conversation seemed lengthier than usual. I don't mean to pry. I just feel a little left out. Anyone I know?"
5. "How much did you spend on that?"
Unresolved Theme: Financial Conflict/Poor Money Management
Best Approach: Provided that a household budget exists, state your concerns based on the facts regarding the current state of the finances:
"I understand that you deserve to enjoy your hard earned wages. Did you check our account before you made that purchase? I'm just concerned that we won't be able to meet our financial obligations."
6. "Have you paid that bill yet?"
Unresolved theme: Recurring Debt/Financial Instability
Best Approach: Living with debt in a relationship can wreak havoc on a couple's ability to maintain a household, especially when one is not living up to the promised responsibilities:
"I would love to start rewarding your progress with a special dinner if we can plan ahead. Are we in a better position this month than last month?"
7. "Are you gaining weight?"
Unresolved Theme: Fear of Losing Attraction to Mate
Best Approach: Be sure to check if you may be influenced by societal expectations about beauty, size, and weight. Talk to your partner about overall self-care regimens that include all aspects of health, nutrition,and appearance. Make it a new priority for both of you as a team. Add any health concerns you have about the risks of overweight:
"Would you like to join me in addressing how we can form a partnership to take better care of ourselves to improve our overall health? I think it would be fun."
8. "Are you drinking again?"
Unresolved Theme: Living with Addiction and Recovery/Fear of Relapse
Best Approach: Recognizing that recovery is a life-long process that involves both partners is critical to the couple's success. Be aware of your own tendencies to ignore the signs of relapse before it spirals out of control:
"I've seen some things that look like you might be relapsing but I didn't say anything until now. What has changed with your recovery program that I might help with to keep you sober?"
9. "Are you feeling depressed?"
Unresolved Theme: Long-standing Mood or Mental Disorder
Best Approach: No one wants to be labeled with any type of mental illness so it's difficult to bring up the subject even when the signs and symptoms are evident. Stating what is seen instead of using a diagnosis term is easier to accept:
"Have you been feeling ill or more tired than usual? I noticed that you're sleeping in more over the last several weeks and I'm concerned."
10. "When are you going to throw away some of that junk?"
Unresolved Theme: Disorganization/Procrastination/Hoarding Behavior
Best Approach: Living with that one cluttered room, basement, garage, or attic is a major irritation that many have learned to tolerate. But at some point, you just want to have some order in your home that could benefit both of you:
"How could you better utilize the space in that area where both of us might better maximize the use of our home?"
Disclaimer on Quick Relief of Unresolved Themes
The suggested approaches to handling tough questions in your relationship that you were afraid to ask are only meant to begin a conversation. It is likely that much more work is needed to keep the lines of good communication fluid and open between you and your partner or spouse.
It may be necessary to seek couples counseling to further address the recurrence of unresolved themes that incite conflict, causing arguments to re-cycle and escalate. For severe, long-standing conflict, it will require the on-going work with a mental health professional that can ensure healing of what may be broken in order for the relationship or marriage to repair and grow.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Me and my partner, my fiancé, have separated because I was talking to a female friend about our relationship. I lied to her about it and now we broke up. She wants to leave but I want to save this. What should I do?
Answer: You will need to give her time during the separation to heal from the wounds of the broken trust. Practice transparency by having open conversations about what deception means. Let her ask you questions about your tendency to have conversations with people other than her. Sharing intimate relationship issues with another female will not help your situation. Communication is the key to being open and transparent.
Question: I want to save my relationship but her trust is gone because I reach out to other females about our relationship and I love my fiancé. What should I do to save this?
Answer: She will have to see that you have made your relationship a priority by showing her you have set new boundaries. You may need to reach out to those who she does not see as a threat in order to reassure her that she is the priority. She needs to see you take these steps with some consistency over a period of time. Hopefully, then she will develop a new trust for you.
© 2012 Janis Leslie Evans