“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” — Rollo May
Communication is key to a successful relationship. Being able to talk openly and honestly with our partner leads to a healthy relationship. Yet, as I work with couples I have noticed that many of them have certain issues that tend to get avoided. When the conversation gets close to that certain issue they will often change the subject and begin to get uncomfortable. These are what I refer to as the landmines in a relationship. There is a real fear that if the topic is brought up it will blow up into an argument, so many couples avoid the area completely. While having one or two landmines in a relationship are usually easy to avoid, as more are created there become fewer and fewer safe topics to discuss and the relationship becomes threatened.
Where do the landmines come from? Sometimes partners can describe exactly how the landmine was planted. They will tell of a big argument or fight they got into, which was never resolved. Anytime the issue was brought up to get resolved it blew up bigger, so eventually, to save the relationship, the subject got avoided completely. Other couples have landmines on areas of past trauma that they are unable to talk about. The couple knows the landmine is there because it accidentally gets detonated when something reminds them of the trauma, but for the most part it gets sidestepped. Other couples are completely unaware of landmine areas until they step on one and are surprised by the reaction.
If you recognize having a landmine in your relationship, what do you do? First of all, it is important to acknowledge in a factual way that there is a topic which is getting avoided. This is an observation and not a judgement towards your partner. Once the topic is acknowledged, become curious about it. What is it activating in me? What are the fears or concerns that lead to that reaction? What would I need to hear or experience to be less reactive? Being able to talk about the landmine is the start of the deactivation process. If even gently touching on this area leads to a detonation, it may be helpful to seek professional counseling to support you in the deactivation process. Landmines are based on beliefs that lie under the surface, so bringing them up and becoming curious is how they begin to lose their power. Each time a landmine gets triggered, it is an opportunity to do some healing when it is dealt with in a healthy manner. Fear keeps them buried, but having the courage to bring up the landmine areas is what strengthens a relationship. What landmines have you been avoiding?