Early on in our relationship, Michelle and I went away for a long weekend. I was enjoying myself, and wanted to stay longer. I knew there was nothing pressing either of us had to get back for. So, I said, “Hey, would you rather go back on Tuesday, or stay a few extra nights?”
In those days, I was an expert at indirect communication. Rather than coming out and saying what I wanted, I would just hint around.
Michelle entirely missed the subtext of my question, and answered it literally. “I’d rather go back on Tuesday.” And she seemed so clear, so unequivocal, that I just dropped the topic. Once I knew her preference, what point was there in telling her I wanted something else? So I just stuffed it.
At the time it seemed to me like there were only two alternatives – to do what she preferred, or to try to get her to do what I preferred. Our “conscious girlfriend” skills were a lot less honed then! So it wasn’t until we were actually in the car, driving back, that I said, “You know, I actually really wanted to stay a few more nights.”
“You did?” Michelle asked in surprise. “Why didn’t you say so? That would have been okay with me.”
“But you said you’d rather go back Tuesday.”
“Well, I didn’t realize you wanted to stay longer!”
Poor Michelle. She was genuinely confused and apologetic. As for me, I felt really sad and frustrated when i realized that I could have gotten what I wanted, if only I’d had the courage and skill to ask for it directly.
In my other relationships, the whole thing would have just felt bad. Fortunately, Michelle and I saved the day by having a deeper conversation about how I might have spoken about my preferences more directly, and how she might have responded. It turned into a light bulb moment!
I wish I could say that turned everything around, but the truth is, I had some pretty strong habits and programming about going along with what the other person wanted – or, what I thought she wanted – and that didn’t change overnight. So I kept up the indirect communication for quite a while longer.
The time that got me in the biggest trouble was when Michelle and I actually bought a house together that I knew I didn’t want to buy… but she seemed so sure she wanted it, that I didn’t speak up clearly. Wow. What a mess!
Have you ever experienced the pain of “biting your tongue” and not telling your girlfriend or partner what you feel, want or need?
Maybe you’re afraid that speaking up will cause a fight. Maybe it has caused fights in the past.
Or maybe you’re afraid of hurting her. Or you feel it would be worse to speak up and not get what you want, so it seems safer to remain silent.
Maybe you’re not sure you really have a “right” to your feeling. The other person’s feeling seems more important, so you figure you should just stuff your own.
But over time, your heart becomes like a closet stuffed too full. There’s no room to find anything in there – and every time you open the door, it all starts spilling out.
Or, maybe you’re not the kind to “stuff it.” Maybe you’re someone who just blurts things out. I understand! I’ve tried that approach, too.
In fact, you name a dysfunctional approach to communication, and I’ve probably tried it – and if I haven’t, Michelle has. So, we get it. But we’ve lived through all the pain and frustration caused by stuffing, blurting, and indirectness – and I’m happy to say we’ve come out the other side.
There are ways to communicate clearly, directly, self-responsibly, and compassionately – and when you learn them, you’ll get what you want much more of the time.
And what’s even better, when you use these kinds of communication tools, even if you don’t get what you want in a specific moment, you’ll get closer to whoever you’re communicating with (which is probably something else that you want.)
These days, when I want something I think Michelle doesn’t want, or don’t want something I think she does want… or, when I feel something that feels scary to communicate… I take some deep breaths and then use the communication skills we teach. And it makes an enormous difference in my life, and in our relationship.
Briefly, those skills are summed up in what we call “clean speech,” “clean listening,” “telling the inarguable truth,” and using the SCORE process. But there’s way too much to cover in just this one article – so we strongly suggest you check out the other articles and videos on our site, or for much more info in one easy-to-read package, check out our book, Conscious Lesbian Dating and Love (available on Amazon.)
Speaking up can feel dangerous – but not speaking up has dangers, too. The real solution is to learn how and when to speak, and then communication gets much easier and feels much better.